Category Archives: Vintage Sewing

Wright’s Bias Fold Tape Sewing Books, 1931

I love finding the odd bits that were published by companies, giving ideas about how to use their products.  In this case it was Wright’s Bias Fold Tape, a product that is still being produced.  Today it is a poly cotton blend, and who knows where it is made, but in 1931 Wright’s made tape in silk and cotton, in solid colors and prints.  I tend to accumulate it and have a full rainbow of vintage bias tape, which I do actually use, mainly for Hong Kong finishes.

These two booklets, both published in 1931, show decorative ideas for using the tape.  It wasn’t just for seam finishing and edging.  To me the booklets are especially useful in seeing the types of things that were inspiring home sewers.

Both booklets had pages on decorating pajamas.  What is really interesting is that early 1930s cotton pajamas found today are very often trimmed with bias tape.  This suggestion was obviously a popular one.

Vintage sellers are thrilled when 1930s pajamas come their way, as they are hot items at present.  They are always listed as beach pajamas (or more likely, pyjamas) but I have a feeling that most of them were intended for sleeping or lounging.  But this was the 1930s, and I’m sure many pajamas saw double duty for both beach and bedroom use.

Another place where one sees bias tape used is on children’s clothing.  As most of it was made from cotton, bias tape was perfect to bind the edges and put a bit of decoration on the dress.

Who could resist a bias tape puppy dog?

Aprons and cotton house dresses were another common use of bias tape, though I can’t imagine any woman taking the time and effort to make the one in beige.

I love the floral decorations on that housecoat.

There were suggestions for home decoration.  According to the booklet, this motif is “a fanciful representation of the flight of the eagle.”

Both booklets had suggestions for making and decorating underwear.  This must have been too much trouble, as I really can’t remember ever seeing more than a few homesewn cotton lingerie pieces from this era, and certainly none that were this decorative.

I am always interested to see what things are called, as I’m afraid we tend to use the current names for clothing from the past.  The booklet calls the pink and lavender pieces “chemise combinations” and the two piece sets are called “shorts and brassiere.”

And what about those pink knees!




Filed under Collecting, Vintage Sewing

Currently Reading: American Quilts by Robert Shaw

I know that having two posts on quilts is straying a bit from the usual fare here at The Vintage Traveler, but I’m sure that lovers of textiles will appreciate the beauty and work that goes into a well-crafted quilt.

I don’t buy quilt books, as a general rule, but I spotted this one at a local fabric store and after thumbing through it decided I had to have it, if only for the visual inspiration.  The book is stunningly beautiful, with 358 pages of lovely photos.  It is arranged loosely chronologically, with different eras of quilt styles serving as chapters.  And it is not just pretty pictures, as Shaw also writes about the textile industry and the development of the sewing machine and other matters of interest.

Since I’m not well versed in quilts, I’m really not qualified to comment on the the quilts chosen for the book, so I read the reviews of others who do know quilts.  Some reviewers were concerned that some quilting styles, such as Amish quilts, were given too much space in the book at the exclusion of others, such as quilts from the Appalachian regions.  And truly, I found my eyes glazing over by the end of the chapter on Amish quilts.  It was a bit too much.

But for the most part, the text is engaging and informative, just like I’d want a book of this sort to be.  The real stars though, are the quilts themselves.

Believe it or not, the cover image is from a quilt that was made in 1933 by Edith Morrow Matthews.

We sometimes think of quilts as being patchwork, but many of the earliest American quilts were appliqued.  This quilt is attributed to Mary Jane Carr of Columbia, Pennsylvania, circa 1850.  Note the dogs in the lower corners.

Named for the ship in the center, this is known as The Constitution Quilt, circa 1880. The blocks depict scenes from the Bible, patriotic and Masonic symbols, and scenes of everyday life.

The maker evidently loved birds.

I do love a good crazy quilt, or in this case, a great one.  Note how it was actually pieced in blocks and then assembled.  The embroidery tends to tie it all together.

The book points out that it is very difficult to attribute a quilt to an African-American maker.  In this case, it seems to be the subject matter that identifies this snake design as African-American.

This circa 1875 to 1900 quilt is from eastern North Carolina,  where coral snakes are a danger.

This detail is from a large quilt that is a variation of the log cabin design.  Because all the people are black and are not caricatures, it is assumed that the maker was African-American.  Circa 1890, and probably from New Jersey.

This is an Amish quilt from Ohio, made in 1928 by Christina Yoder Schlaabach.  Amish quilts varied from community to community, and in accordance to how much influence there was from the “English” world.  One thing they have in common is that they are never pictorial.

A variation of the fan design, this quilt was found in New York City, where it was possibly made around 1920.  The pieces are velvet and cotton, and is tied (the ties look like dots in the photo) rather than stitch quilted.

I love this amazing quilt.  It was made by a farmer’s wife, Fannie B. Shaw, between 1930 and 1932.  The appliqued figures all represent a profession, and are labeled as such.  And why are they looking around the corner?  They are looking for prosperity, something that President Hoover promised was “just around the corner.”  Note the representatives of the GOP and the Democrats, and finally, Uncle Sam with sacks of gold, farm relief and free beer!

This is just a corner of a fantastic quilt made by Goldie Tracy Richmond in 1966.  Richmond and her husband ran a trading post on the Papago reservation in Arizona, and she made quilts to sell to tourists.  This one shows life on the reservation.

As the twentieth century advanced, the practice of quilting declined.  But the 1970s brought a renewed interest in the traditional crafts of America, and people began to take up quilting as a hobby.  In many cases, the line between craft and art is blurred as quilts changed from being utilitarian items to being strictly decorative.  Many go beyond that into the realm of sending a message.

The quilt above is from 1986, and was made by Judy Mathieson.  Called Nautical Stars, it was inspired by a watercolor of compass roses.

Click to see a larger view

Susan at Witness2Fashion recent wrote about this quilt on her blog, and I was delighted to see it in this book.  The quilt, Portrait of a Textile Worker, is made entirely of clothing labels that were donated to the maker, Terese Agnew.  Read more about it on Susan’s blog.

Once again I have to say a word or two about historical accuracy.  While I do not know a lot about the history of quilts, the fashion historian in me could not help but be disturbed by this paragraph:

The Lancaster Amish continued to work the same small group of patterns until World War II put an end to the supply of fine wool, most of which had been imported from England. With their favored material no longer readily available, Lancaster Amish women were forced to use polyester, and the classic period of their quiltmaking effectively came to an end.

I may be reading this incorrectly, but it seems to me the author is saying that polyester replaced wool during the war.  That would not be possible because polyester became available to consumers only after the war was over, in 1950.  Another inaccuracy was that Illinois was stated to be the first state to give women the right to vote in 1913.  Actually, it was Wyoming, in 1869.  And finally, Diana Vreeland was referred to as “the influential designer” when she was, in fact, the editor of Vogue.

The point needs to be made that when reading one has to be both a reader and and editor.  We are used to relying on books to supply correct information, but that is not always the case, unfortunately.  Reader beware!

All photos were taken from the book, American Quilts: The Democratic Art, by Robert Shaw.  Please do not copy photos from this site.


Filed under Currently Reading, Vintage Sewing

Cruso Quilt Show, 2015

One of the things I have to do every summer is attend the Cruso Quilt Show.  Even though I’m not a quilter, I’m enough of a textile lover and appreciator to love spending an hour or so examining the quilts, both modern and vintage.  I always learn something and I always see something that is new to me.

The bowtie quilt above is a vintage quilt top that has been newly finished using machine stitches.

This is a new quilt made from vintage fabrics and feedsacks.  The fabrics had belonged to the quilter’s mother-in-law.

Quilts are meant to be seen from a distance, but also close up.  I love the visual impact of a beautiful quilt, but the little squares are sometimes design marvels by themselves.

In the quilting world, things are not always as they seem.  This quilt is made from modern reproductions of vintage fabrics.  The maker could have gone one step further into vintageland by using a natural muslin for the background fabric.

This one is vintage, and after looking at a lot of vintage and reproductions, the background fabrics are usually a big hint as to which is which.

This quilt that uses reproduction fabrics really caught my eye, and not only because it is so bold.  Some of the fabrics in this quilt are reproductions of the “neons” of 1892 through 1900 that I learned about back in April when I found some old swatches.

I have the originals on which the leaf prints are patterned.  Even the colors are the same.

Crazy quilts are associated with the Victorians, but women were still making them in the mid twentieth century.  The fabrics in this quilt date from the 1930s through the 1960s.  This method of making crazy squares is more obvious without all the Victorian embellishment.

This vintage quilt had the best dancing elephant fabric.

This vintage quilt is interesting for several reasons.  First, I need to point out that the squares are very small, about one and a half inches across.  This was obviously made by someone who saved even the smallest scraps.  Second, note the way the fabrics are positioned, with no attempt to cut the triangles on the grain of the fabric.  And finally, there was not much effort put into matching the corners.  We tend to thing that old equals quality, but in many cases that is just not true. Today quilting is a craft, something that people do for fun, but for many women in the past, it was just work that had to be done.

And I’ll end with a new quilt, this one made by my sister-in-law for my niece’s soon to be born baby boy.  I love the bold colors!

Correction:  I changed the word foundation to background in the paragraph following the fourth photo.  Thanks to my more-knowledgeable-than-me readers for keeping me straight.


Filed under Southern Textiles, Vintage Sewing

Sewing with Cotton Bags, 1937

Who better to tell a housewife how to sew with cotton bags than a group representing the makers of them, the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association?  This booklet dates from 1937, but I’ve seen similar ones from as recent as the late 1950s, just as paper bags were replacing the cloth sacks.  Generically known today as feedsacks, these bags are a hot commodity, selling for at least $10 each, and the best ones selling for $50 and even more.  Wouldn’t those thrifty homemakers from the 1930s be shocked to learn that what they got free with a purchase of flour or sugar are going for such prices!

Sewing with Cotton Bags is thirty-two pages of ideas of what to do with all those bags.  It was revised in 1937, but some of the styles are several years older, left over from an earlier edition.  The drawing above shows a woman who is more likely from 1932 than 1937.

The pleated sleeve shown above left was a common sports sleeve, and I’ve seen it as early as 1932.  I love how the booklet declares them to be “stylish” which is much better word in this case than “fashionable”!

The “Simple Sports Ensemble” on the left was a standard of any active woman’s wardrobe from the early 1930s through the 1940s.  This one is probably from 1935 or so, due to the long skirt and the sleeves that are not gathered.  The tennis dress appears to be from around the same time.

Wide legged pajamas were a 1930s standard.  That set on the left was designed for sleeping, but many women took them to the beach as cover ups.

Cotton sacks were not just for clothes.  You could also use them to make your summer cottage more charming.

They also worked well as a table cover.  I can imagine all the great junk that was stored out of sight, behind the feedsacks.

The patterns shown in the booklet could be ordered for ten cents each, or three for twenty-five cents.  Most are for aprons and clothes for small children, but some, like the blouses, were really quite nice, and yes, even stylish.


Filed under Vintage Sewing

The Great British Sewing Bee on Youtube

I’m a little bit slow to this game, as I had been told that seasons 2 and 3 of The Great British Sewing Bee were now available online to all viewers on youtube. Thanks to an email this afternoon from Del, I had my memory jarred and I’ve now watched the first episode of season 2. Who knew that watching other people sew could be so much fun?

Due to a bit of minor hand surgery I’ve got some downtime coming up this week, so instead of posting here, I’ll be catching up on these episodes.  I couldn’t be away that long without giving you an alternative to my posts.  Enjoy!


Filed under Currently Viewing, Vintage Sewing

Vintage Sewing: 1940s Fabric Meets 1950s Pattern

I’m always interested in reading how other people approach sewing projects.  Most of the sewing blogs I read have an element of the past to them.  Some people sew perfect reproductions of an era which interests them.  Others use modern fabrics with vintage patterns or vintage fabrics with modern patterns.

My sewing is a bit more eclectic.  I have no problem taking a fabric from one era and pairing it with a pattern from another.  I pretty much know what I like, and which fabrics and styles fit in with my casual lifestyle.  I live in the South so my summer clothes have to be cool and preferably, loose without being sloppy.

I’ve finally found a use for Facebook.  I “belong” to a group called Novelty and Border Print B/S/T (buy/sale/trade).  Most of the active members are 1950s border print fanatics, and so there is always a “new” print to be seen there.  They also post pages from vintage magazines which show border print skirts and fabrics.  If someone spots an interesting novelty print for sale on the web, she will post the link to the sales page. It is really useful the way that group operates.

And that is how I found this great print.  It is from the late 1940s, and it is made of a textured but cool rayon.  The beachy scenes and the two shades of blue were an added attraction.  Quite remarkably, this fabric was for sale on eBay for a $3 buy-it-now.

The downsides were that there were age spots scattered about and that there was barely one yard of it.  Even though I rarely buy fabric over the internet, I could not resist, and so a few clicks later it was mine.  The spots washed out, the dyes did not run, and the fabric did not shrink.  I mention these things because one never knows when using a fabric that is seventy years old.

I know that many sewers buy their fabric with a project in mind.   I seldom have that sort of advanced planning in place.  I see a fabric I like and later I worry about what should be made from it, especially if it is a vintage fabric with the amount of yardage available already determined for me.

Because there was so little fabric, I was limited in what I could do with it.  I decided that I really wanted a casual top, but there was not enough fabric for sleeves.  The solution was to pick a pattern in which the sleeves are cut with the bodice.  I came up with McCall’s 4093, a pattern from 1957 which I had used several years ago.

Several changes were in order.  I did not want the drawstring at the waist, and the fabric was just too busy for details like the tab under the v-neck and the sleeve cuffs.   One solution would have been to make them from a solid, but I decided to just eliminate them.  I also changed the cut of the sleeve somewhat.  The illustration is misleading about how the sleeve cuffs lie.  They look as if they are cut straight across the arm, but in fact they are cut on a diagonal.  I lowered the top of the sleeve cuff to straighten it a bit.

I lengthened the bodice as much as possible, but my skimpy little piece did not allow for much of that, so I put as small a hem as possible, using bias tape to bind the edge.  I left just a peek of it showing on the outside, just because I could.

I used the scraps of a former project to make the collar and facing.  I always save my scraps, as I never know when I’ll find a use for them.  I made shorts from the blue cotton several years ago.  And yes, I do love my bias tape bindings.

The result is nothing fancy, but I’ll wear this a lot.


Filed under Vintage Sewing

Vintage/Modern Mash-up Ski Pajamas

I’ve always got big plans for things to sew, but when it comes right down to it I’m very practical in my choices.  I recently found myself in need of a new pair of warm pajamas, so I went to my storehouse of fabrics to see what was suitable.  I’ve shown the pink and white ski print here before in an attempt to know for sure whether the fabric is new or is vintage.  Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten a definite answer, because some people say “vintage” and other insist it is “modern.”

I had only about half a yard of the fabric, but I decided that all I needed to do was pair it with some modern flannel in similar colors and theme.  That was easier thought than done because as we all know, good fabrics are getting harder and harder to find, and I simply cannot bring myself to buy fabrics online.

After searching for most of the winter, I came across the black with snowflakes design you see here.  I had almost given up the search when I found it stuck in a corner at a local quilting fabric shop.  They had a small selection of cotton flannels, and so I could not believe my luck.  It was exactly what I needed.

I make a lot of pajama pants for myself and my husband, so I planned to use my trusty New Look 6838.  (In case you don’t remember, this is the pattern where I located a marijuana cigarette stuck in the bottom of the envelope.)  I usually pair my pants with a soft cotton knit top for sleeping, but I also wanted to make a jacket from the two fabrics.  I did not have a pattern for what I was picturing, but it occurred to me that the plain bodice of a dress would work.  I took the bodice from a 1960s shirt dress, Simplicity 6435, and cut it a bit longer.  There were darts but I did not stitch them.  The sleeve is the one with the pattern, but cut longer.

All the edges I finished with contrasting bias.  Because this set will be getting a lot of wear and washing, all the seams and edges are completely enclosed.

Not a pretty shot, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Because there is so little difference in the front and the back of the pants, I stitched a little X the show the center back.

I’ve been wearing these for over a month now, and whether or not the ski print is vintage or not, there is a very big difference in the way the two fabric feel.  The ski print is very soft  but the snowflake is still quite stiff even after multiple washings.  Maybe that is due to the black dye, but it just seems that the ski print fabric is so much nicer.

I’ll not be treating you to a photo of me wearing my night clothes, but you can get an idea of how they look here on the fake half girl.



Filed under Vintage Sewing