Category Archives: Vintage Sewing

Vintage Sewing: Simplicity 6250

It seems like it has been forever since I did a sewing post.  Part of it is that I’m not much of a summer sewer.  I like a cold, snowy day with no other agenda in order to really get serious about sewing.  Nevertheless, I have managed to make a few things in the past warm months.

High on my list was a swimsuit cover-up, which I made from  Butterick’s Two-Way Wrap Dress pattern, number 4699.  I made it from the silly Scotty dog print you can see there, a print I’d bought to make pajamas.  But I decided I needed a cover-up more than the pjs, so there you are.  I don’t have a photo of the finished article, but it looks just like the pattern illustration, except that I made it a bit shorter.  It’s not terribly flattering, but it does allow one to get from hotel room to hotel pool without feeling over exposed.  So mission accomplished.

I had a bit of the print left over and on a whim decided to made a matching hat.  I had several hat patterns from which to choose, but I went with one I’d never used, Simplicity 6250.  I like a basic bucket shape, and this was the closest pattern I had.  I used a tiny waffle pique for the outside, and the Scotty print was to be the lining.  Actually the pattern does not call for a lining, so I used the print for the underside of the brim, attached the brim to the crown, and then put the crown lining in by hand.

I realize that I made a cutting mistake, which was partially caused by the fact that my print fabric had to be pieced to form the brim.  Because of that my Scotties are standing on their heads when the brim is flipped back!

The pattern is super easy, with the only hard part being the construction of the crown.  You have to mark it carefully to make sure it all comes to a nice, crisp, six-way point.

This turned out to be a great little beach hat.  It is light enough that I could roll it up and stick it in my pocket, and then pull it out when it was needed.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be using up more scraps left over from prior projects with this pattern.

6 Comments

Filed under Vintage Sewing

Make It Yourself

When I was eleven years old, or somewhere in that preteen time, I realized that by sewing my own clothes I could have more than if we bought them ready made.  My grandmother had always made my clothes, but she was beginning to suffer from arthritis, and so was having to cut back on her own sewing.  The solution was for her to teach me.

Today, people don’t sew in order to save money, unless they are in the custom of buying it all at Bergdorf Goodman.  Clothes have gotten so cheap that in most cases it is cheaper just to buy a garment and be done with it.  But there are plenty of people who sew not because it is cheap, but because they like being able to create their own clothes.   The fit can be better, and you get to choose your own fabrics and colors.

But it is a mistake that by sewing (and knitting…) you are eliminating all social and environmental problems from your wardrobe.  The growing and manufacture of cotton and other textiles is costly in terms of water, dye, and chemical usage.  Slave labor is associated with cotton farms in Asia, and textile factories in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are big polluters.

There is still textile production in the US, though it can be hard to source.  Organic cottons are also available, which at least helps with the problem of pesticides.  If you like wool, made in the USA Pendleton is hard to beat.

If money is not a concern, there are still factories in France and Italy that make stunning silks and woolens.  The UK produces Harris Tweed and other woolens, and the superb Liberty cottons are printed in the UK.  (I could not find where the cloth was actually manufactured, though the cotton is grown in Egypt.)

But the best solution is to try to source fabric secondhand.  Most serious sewers have a fabric stash.  You can see an old photo of mine above.  Most of the pieces I can pick out in the photo were ones I found at my Goodwill Outlet Center.  I have a really hard time leaving behind great fabric, and so I have quite a collection.  To be honest, I could be kept busy for several years sewing up what I already have.  When at the Goodwill bins I also look for garments made of great fabric that I can adapt to something new.  There is also lots of great vintage fabric on ebay and etsy.

As with ready made clothing, you need more than just fabric to make a garment.  There are still thread manufacturers in the US, but most of them produce in bulk for industrial use.  When I bought my new sewing machine (nine years ago!) the consultant advised me to only use a high quality European made thread, like Gütermann, as they are tightly spun and do not produce as much lint.  If you have ever used a cheap thread, you might have noticed how it actually looks furry.

I also buy good vintage thread when I find it.  The sheen of a roll of old Coats & Clark mercerized is hard to beat.  But always do a stress test on any old threads, as if stored in high heat, they can become dry rotted and will be too weak with which to sew.

I love it when I run across the remains of a seamstress’s sewing box at the Goodwill bins.  I always stock up on elastic, snaps, hook and eyes, zippers, and buttons when I find them.  And look at the bottom shelf in my photo to see a bin filled with vintage bias binding and rick-rack.

One thing I would really love to do is learn to knit past a simple knit and purl.  Knitting has become so popular that it has helped sustain many small fiber farms which produce wool from sheep and other animals.  There is an alpaca farm just a few miles from me, and their yarn is in very high demand.  I’m afraid to get anywhere near the front door of a yarn shop, as I know I’d be sucked in.  But it is great that this resource is available to knitters.

Making your own clothing can be one way to  improve your closet, but as with buying ready made clothing, you have to do a little work and research to ensure you are making wise environmental choices.

28 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint, 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!

 

 

17 Comments

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.

7 Comments

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.

12 Comments

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.

22 Comments

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!

6 Comments

Filed under Currently Viewing, Vintage Sewing