Category Archives: Uncategorized

Currently Reading – A History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Spanabel Emery

The History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution by Joy Spanabel Emery is a book that fills a gap in fashion history research that has been needed for a long time.   Because of the multitude of companies, and the fact that they often sprang up, merged with other companies, or simply disappeared within a few years, tracking the industry has been somewhat difficult.

I’m going to start out by saying that this book is probably not for everyone, not even for everyone who sews and enjoys fashion history.  One thing I learned from teaching history to ten through twelve year-olds is that the most effective way to make history interesting is to concentrate on the story aspect.   In some cases this is simply not possible, and what Emery has produced is a straight-forward history with a minimum of story-telling.

While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that you have to want to be surrounded by lots of facts with very little  sense of a narrative.  Personally, I found the book to be of great interest because it cleared up so much about the history of sewing patterns, and also of the story of home sewing.

The book starts with the very earliest sewing patterns and goes through the present.  I found that the chapters on the 1920s through the 1960s were the most interesting, mainly because that is where my interest lies.

Of special interest were sections on designer patterns.  One thing I learned was that in 1925 McCall’s  began making patterns from Parisian designers that were faithful copies, not adaptations.  The only problem is that these were identified in the McCall’s magazine and in their pattern catalog, but not on the pattern envelope.  That means that it takes a large collection like the Commercial Pattern Archive (where Emery is curator) in order to identify these patterns by cross-referencing the patterns with the magazine copy.

The book is richly illustrated, which is a real strength.   Almost every key point in the book has a corresponding illustration.  Here you see on the left a 1941 Dubarry (which I learned was made by Simplicity for Woolworth’s) pattern, and on the right there is a photo of the dress made up.

I also learned about how like the clothing industry and Hollywood designers, the pattern companies had to really scramble after Dior launched his “New Look.”  One solution was to simply re-release a pattern in longer lengths as you can see in the above illustration.

For readers who love a challenge, the author has included gridded patterns for nine designs.  And there is a long list of references for further exploration.

Instead of putting the reference notes in a section at the end, the author opted to put them in the text.  While it is fairly easy to learn to just skip over the parentheses, it can be a bit annoying.  Or maybe that is just one of my personal pet peeves.

I do have to point out that I found one bit of misinformation, which would have gone unnoticed had I not been personally familiar with the topic.  Emery got the history of Folkwear patterns all wrong, saying that Kate Mathews was one of the original owners.  No, Kate bought the company in 2002, but was not originally involved in the formation of the company.  It’s really regrettable that such a mistake was made because it always causes one to doubt the rest of the  facts presented.  I’m hoping this was just a slip caused by the misreading of the company history on Folkwear’s website.



Filed under Currently Reading, Uncategorized

The Colors of Summer: Red, White, and Blue

I love red, white, and blue, not because the colors are somehow “patriotic” but because they simply say “summer” to me.  When we think of clothing classics, we think of the little black dress and the white cotton shirt and the cardigan sweater.  Maybe we ought to also consider this on-going color combination favorite.

To make my point, today I’m sharing some summer clothes from my collection, all of which have some combination of the color trio.  If you are a newcomer to The Vintage Traveler, you can click the links to read the original blog post about each item.

The early 1970s tennis dress above reminded me of tennis star Chris Evert.

Along the same lines is this 1970s  tennis dress from White Stag.  Note the logo on the pocket.

Red, white, and blue always says “nautical” to me as well.  This gathered novelty print skirt from the 1950s shows why.

Continuing with the nautical theme is this  late 1950s or early 60s short sleeve jacket.  Just add navy slacks.

Add these red 1950s Summerettes to make the ensemble complete.

A 1930s beach-goer would have covered up with a red,white, and blue beach pyjama.

For sports spectating, the 1930s woman might have chosen a nautical themed sundress.

Nautical themes were also good for shopping, as seen in this 1930s cotton frock.

Bathing suits have always looked good in red, white, and blue, as in this Jantzen suit from 1936...

And this swimsuit from the early 1970s.

Got something red, white, and blue to sell or to share?  Feel free to post a link in the comments.


Filed under Holidays, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Jantzen Swimsuit, Mid 1960s

I really love and appreciate all the great friends I’ve made through writing this blog.  So many of you have shared your stories about clothing and sewing, and all these stories make for a rich and varied shared history.

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Janey at The Atomic Redhead.  Janey is lucky because she lives in the land of White Stag and Pendleton and Jantzen, otherwise known as Portland, Oregon.  From time to time I’ll get an email from her saying that she has a little something I might be interested in.  I must be greedy, because I’m always interested in Janey’s gifts.

The latest package from Janey contained the two piece swimsuit shown here.  It is, of course, from Jantzen, as the diving girl logo proudly announces.  It is made from a creamy white textured polyester knit, and the bra is very structured.  Many swimsuit bras from this era were made with a thin padded layer that over time degrades into a gritty powder.  But in this bra the padding is intact and shows no sign of powdering.

Thanks to movies like Bikini Beach and Beach Party, some people tend to think that bikinis were pretty skimpy in the mid 1960s, but in my little conservative town, this two piece was about as risqué as it got.  As the decade worn on, the bottoms got smaller, and the bras less structured, but in 1965 girls’ swimsuits were like armor!

I can remember my very first “grown-up” swimsuit.  It was a hand-me-down from my cousin Arlene, who was two years older than me and who lived near Atlanta and who was my idol.  The style was just like the Jantzen here, but was in shades of greens and brown.  I’d have never picked that color combination out, but I’ll have to admit, that at eleven years old, I felt very grown up wearing that suit.

This Coppertone ad from 1964 shows the style quite well.  No bellybuttons here!


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Goodbye to Waechter’s, An Asheville Institution

Remember how just a few days ago I was bragging about the super fabric shopping situation in Asheville?  Just a few days later I got a most distressing email – Waechter’s Fine Fabrics was closing.

The store opened in 1929 as Waechter’s Silk Shop, and the name remained the same until just a few years ago.  It was first located in the Grove Arcade, but by the time I first visited the store, it was located on  Wall Street, Asheville.

My first experience there was with a friend whose mother was taking a tailoring class and was shopping for wool for a coat.  I was already sewing at that point, and was shocked by how much more expensive their fabrics were than the ones I was buying at Belk’s Department Store.  But the store was so enchanting, just like stepping back into the past with the old fashioned fabric meter, and the fabrics purchased being wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

My first purchase there was navy Pendleton wool that I used to make a blazer.  I also bought my first Liberty Tana lawn at Waechter’s, used for a dress that I wore to my sister’s wedding rehearsal.

I started filling out an online order as soon as the email arrived, but I knew that I really needed to just drive over and have one last shopping experience at Waechter’s, to feel the fabrics and remember all the lovely things I’ve made from their fine fabrics.

And I did buy a few pieces of fabrics for spring – a Liberty Tana lawn print, some striped Italian cotton shirting, and some blue and white Italian linen gingham.



Filed under North Carolina, Uncategorized


One of the big selling points of vintage clothing is that it is perceived as being of higher quality than clothing made today.  It is true that a visit to your local vintage store will produce item after item of clothes of a quality that today would make them prohibitively expensive to produce for the average consumer.

So, were all clothes in the past just made better of superior fabrics using sophisticated techniques?  The short answer is no.

Since the dawn of ready-to-wear part of the market has been for people who are poor.  My latest reading (A Cultural History of Fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries, by Bonnie English) indicates that probably the first ready-to-wear clothing was manufactured for the very poor in England in the late 18th century.

I’ve seen some really poorly made garments, dating back to the 1920s, but the truth is, that most things that have survived do seem to be of a higher quality.  My guess is that this is due to  several things.  First, clothing made of poor quality fabric couldn’t stand up to the wear.  And if poorer people were wearing these clothes, then they had to be worn until the fabric was either fit only for rags or for projects such as quilts.  Part of it might have to do with the things people tend to save.  Even out of style garments that cost the wearer a lot to buy end up hanging on in the deep dark corners of the closet for years.

I bought this early 1950s camp shirt despite the obvious poor quality.  It was interesting as the type of thing a woman might wear while touring with the husband and kids in their new station wagon.  Yes, I know this a stereotypical 1950s  family, but the vision  is there and I had to share it.

The interior of the shirt is a mess.  All the loose ends were just left hanging,  and I can’t imagine why the wearer didn’t take the time to tie them off herself.

This is one wonky little pocket.  Note how the right side is off at both the bottom and the top.

All the interior seams are flat felled, which is good, but they were stitched by a machine that did a chain stitch which is very easy to pull out.  And notice that some of the edges did not get turned under properly.

While the center front does sort of match, there was no attempt to match the check at the side seams.  It takes more fabric to properly match, and so is more expensive.

The shirt is nicely shaped with tucks and darts at the waist, but again, there was no attempt to make the two sides of the back look symmetrical.

There are some nice features, like this button at the collar and the elastic loop.  And while the fabric is not really of a good quality, the color has held up quite well.

I do really like the fun, casual look of the shirt.  It reminds me of a picnic cloth.




Filed under Uncategorized, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

1960s Suit by Davidow

One of the chapters in Claire Shaeffer’s new book, The Couture Cardigan Jacket, shows how to distinguish between an authentic vintage Chanel jacket and an authorized copy.  In the past, American ready-to-wear makers, and even department stores that had their own sewing workshops, could buy the rights to make and sell couture copies.  One of the best known makers of Chanel copies was Davidow.

Today we hear the word “copy” and we think of an illegal activity.  But this practice was perfectly legal.  In the photo below which was taken from the October 15, 1960 issue of Vogue, squint and you can read, “Suit copy by Davidow at Bonwit Teller.  Chanel copies all five pages. ”

Photo copyright Conde Nast Publications, 1960

Davidow made both Chanel-inspired suits and as seen above, faithful Chanel copies, right down to the same fabric and Chanel buttons.  They were not couture, but they were luxury ready-to-wear and as such were quite expensive.

My suit is of the Chanel-inspired variety.  Still, it is a very nice suit with all sorts of lovely details.

Here is the Davidow label.  But what if my label were missing?  How could I tell that this is not a couture suit?

The first hint is the lining fabric.  While the fashion fabric – the outside fabric that everyone sees – is a very nice tweedy silk, the lining is an average quality acetate.  In a couture suit the lining would be silk.

As you would find in a couture suit, the sleeve is nicely shaped to fit the bend of the elbow.  However, this sleeve is constructed from two pattern pieces.  Chanel couture sleeves have three pieces.

My suit has a vent at the sleeve cuff, but the button is sewn to secure the vent.  In a couture suit there would be a functioning buttonhole through which the button would fasten.

My suit has topstitching around the collar and the front edges.  The topstitching was sewn after the jacket was constructed.  In a Chanel couture jacket, the topstitching will be only on the outside layer and is stitched before the pieces are constructed.

The buttonholes on my suit are bound.  On a Chanel couture jacket the buttonholes are handworked, with a faux bound hole on the lining.

On copies, the flaps often do not have a real pocket beneath.  However, my suit has two actual pockets and two faux pockets.  You might think that all Chanel couture suits would have pockets beneath all flaps, but Shaeffer’s research has shown this to not be true.  Chanel often used faux flaps as well.

My jacket is also not quilted and there is no chain along the edge of the hem.  But it does have a nice Lord and Taylor label.

To see some great ads from the early 1960s which show Davidow suits, visit Jen’s blog, Pintucks.


Filed under Uncategorized

And the Winner Is…

Joan Elliott Burgess.  Congratulations, Joan!

The winner was picked using a random number generator, and Joan was lucky number 14.

Thanks so much to all who took the time to post and enter the drawing.  I wish I had 53 books so you all could have one.



Filed under Uncategorized