Tag Archives: novelty print

Saul Steinberg Novelty Border Prints

I think that at some time or another I’ve shown photos of the skirts in today’s post. But after showing these on Instagram I realized I needed to write a little about artist Saul Steinberg and this line of skirts. You may know Steinberg from the many covers he made for The New Yorker. Lesser known were the textiles he designed in the 1950s.

Starting in 1946 Steinberg designed a line of home decorator fabrics and matching wallpapers for Piazza Prints. It was supposed to be an exclusive contract, with Steinberg designing only for Piazza, but somehow he entered into agreements with at least two other firms.  One was another maker of home decorating fabrics, but the other was a producer of dress goods. Probably because he was in violation of his contract with Piazza, Steinberg’s name does not appear on the garment weight goods.

All of this information was researched for the book and exhibition Artists’ Textiles: 1940 – 1975.  The information about the two “illegal” lines was uncovered in the correspondence between Steinberg and Piazza representatives.  Piazza did not care about the dress goods fabrics, as they were not their competition. They were upset at the other lines, as it was a competing company located just blocks from them in the garment district.

The dress goods are all, as far as I know, labeled Regulated Cotton “Never Misbehaves”. Also included is the name of the print.  This modern day cowboy goes to Vegas scene is titled “Tin Horn Holiday”. I know nothing at all about that company  but some of the fabrics have been found in 1950s JC Penney catalogs. Like many of the fabrics in the past, yardage was available to both home sewers and to manufacturers of clothing.

The Steinberg prints are pretty easy to recognize, as most of them have some features in common. One end of the selvage, which is the bottom of the print, has a border that is not part of the narrative. Above you can see random lines along with scribbles that sort of look like words, but don’t actually say anything.  Above that is the story, in this case of a cowboy and bandit, two cat-eyed ladies in a big ole car, palm tree street lights, and a resort casino sign.

Parts of the motif are carried upward into the background. Here you see lots of little cars, probably traveling in for a holiday. As was common, this print came in at least five different colorways.

This print is, I think, called Casbah. Steinberg had spent time in North Africa, and he made a similar drawing during his visit.  This print follows the pattern of hem border, the main story, and then the palm tree motif repeated near the top.

This print also came in white, with red, gold, and blue accents.

This print had the selvage removed during its construction, so I can only guess at a name.  How about Cuckoo?  And I love that goat so much.

In making this skirt, the sewer used the bottom border to make the waistband.  A complete version has sea turtles at the hem.  I’ve seen this print with a black background with bright colors, and someday this skirt will be replaced with that version.

Instagram user gday321 posted a photo of himself wearing a cabana set – swim trunks and matching shirt – made from this print in white with bright colors.  He found his set pictured  in a 1958 Sears catalog. I’ve seen this print referred to as Calypso, though I do not know if that is the actual name.

This last print has been identified as a Saul Steinberg design, and it does look like his work.  It is a bit different in that the background is not filled in with a smaller motif.

All the Steinberg prints seem to have travel based themes, or at least travel destinations for American tourists.  There are several more besides the ones in my collection. An English fox hunting scene has the fox sitting on a “No Hunting” sign while surrounded by hunters on horseback and their hounds.  A Florida themed skirt called “Cypress Gardens” has water skiers and speed boats.  There are two prints that feature trains, “Paddington Station” and one known as simply “Train.” One of the most elaborate designs is a scene in an opera house. There is one that features a roller coaster in an amusement park.  There is one that looks like Innsbruck, with a procession of antique fire engines, and another that looks like Switzerland with people in folk costume and a Saint Bernard dog with his little cask of rum. There could be others, as some of these are rarely seen.

I’m thinking Steinberg must have made more than a little pocket change from these fabrics, as some of them were obviously very popular, especially Tin Horn Holiday. Hopefully more research will be made and more details will come to light about these fantastic fabrics.

Artists’ Textiles 1940 – 1976by Geiff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Phelp is a great book.  Read it.

 

 

 

 

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Mrs. William Stock Wearing a Familiar Looking Dress

I’m in the process of organizing and making good digital copies of my photograph collection.  Actually, I’m waiting for a big snowstorm that will force me to actually stay at home and accomplish the task, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I have been reviewing and categorizing each photo, and when I came to this one, I did a bit of a double-take.  Mrs. Stock’s dress looked very familiar.  Then it hit me.  I have that dress.

The dress is a rayon print with travel tags: Paris, Salzburg, Marrakesh, Edinburgh, and Venice.

It’s 1950s in every way possible, from the pink and olive green used in the print, to the fonts of the words, to the line drawings.  And the design of the dress – actually a skirt and blouse – is also typical of the 1950s.

My dress has no label, but it was commercially made.  I’ve seen the print in another colorway, and in a different type garment – a much fuller skirt.  That’s not uncommon, as a fabric design was often not only used by more than one company, and it might have been offered to home dressmakers as well.

Click to enlarge

Here’s a closer look at Mrs. Stock and her dress.  I love that we can see how she accessorized the dress, with her pearls, bracelet, and especially, the belt.  It’s the only piece that does not match!

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1930s Baby Fabric Reproduction

Some of the very best vintage feedsack designs are those that were designed for babies and small children.  To look at this photo, you might think that is what I’m showing.  But take a closer look.

This is actually a cotton flannel, and it is not vintage.  It’s still really cute.

Since we were talking about the blurred lines between old fabrics, and those that are meant to look old I wanted to show this relatively recent fabric and the print in the selvage.

Copyright Judie Rothermel for Marcus Bros. Textiles, Inc. 1930’s

A quick google reveals that Ms. Rothermel is a textile designer who seems to specialize in “fabric reproductions.”  In order for it to be a true reproduction, it has to be a copy or a duplicate of an original.  I suspect that these fabrics are actually adaptations of old fabrics, and not faithful reproductions.  At any rate, they look “vintage-y” enough that without the selvage they could fool people who are not experts on 1930s prints.  And that includes me.

This is just another case of how difficult telling old from new has become.  People who handle this type of thing a lot would not be fooled, but I suspect that after a few washings this fabric is going to look even more vintage.

If you have not been in a large fabrics store in recent years, especially one that deals in quilting cottons, you might be very surprised at the huge variety of prints that are designed to look vintage.  If you are familiar with the graphics of an era, say the early Sixties, then you will see that there are things that often give the new designs away.  Sometimes the colors have been updated, or they tend to deal with themes that we in 2014 have assigned to an era, such as martini glasses for the early Sixties.

I’m not saying that these fabrics are bad, but it really does pay to be aware of the new, even when collecting the old.

In the 1970s laws were passed that require that the sleepwear of small children be made of fire-retardant fabrics.  Personally, I can’t imagine for what one would use a warm,soft fabric printed with little bunnies except sleepwear.  I wonder how many rebellious mommies out there  have ignored the selvage and made junior’s jammies from fabric not impregnated with fire-retardant chemicals.

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Viewpoint

Novelty Print Skirt – An Alpine Holiday

About ten years ago I really began to love 1950s novelty prints, and especially the many border prints that were made mainly for full gathered skirts.  I was really drawn to the designs that were labeled in the selvage as “A Regulated Cotton – Never Misbehaves”.  As it turned out, these prints were designed by artist Saul Steinberg, who is probably best remembered today for his covers for The New Yorker.

The prints in this series were also named.  A favorite seemed to be “Tin Horn Holiday” which has a sort of Old West meets Vegas theme.  There is also “Oasis” which is an Arabian Nights type of scene and “Paddington Station” with trains in the station.  There are others for which I do not know the name such as a scene of the interior of an opera house, an English fox hunt,  and a roller coaster ride.  Unfortunately the selvages were often cut off in the making of the skirt of dress.

But the good news is that the prints are so distinctive that they are fairly easy to recognize.  There seems to be a standard formula that that Steinberg, or maybe the company designers who adapted his work, used.  First, Steinberg drew in a certain style, using a variety of line thicknesses, from very thick to very thin.  The hem edge always has a coordinating border, as you see in the hearts and birds border of this print.  There is a background that usually goes to the top edge of the fabric.  In this case the background is the Alpine landscape.

Steinberg did not sign these prints because he had an exclusive contract with another fabric company to design home furnishing fabrics.  I’m not sure how many prints Steinberg did for A Regulated Cotton, but they all seem to be loosely based around the theme of travel and leisure activities.  Recently I’ve seen several that I’d never seen before, including this new one.

I rarely buy novelty print skirts any more because they have become extremely popular, and so the prices have risen beyond what I want to pay for them.  But this one was so great, and the price so reasonable that I decided to add it to the collection.  It came from Amy at Viva Vintage Clothing, one of my favorite online shops.

I need help naming this one.  I name all my novelty skirts for a movie or book that the print seems to suggest.  I thought about Heidi, and it also reminds me of the “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show in The Sound of Music.  Any other suggestions?

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Silk Mystery Outfit UPDATED

One of the most fun things about collecting old clothing is examining a garment to try and reveal its secrets.  It’s rare that I know anything at all about a piece that I buy unless I just happen to get it from the original owner or her family.  Even when you ask vintage sellers about the background of an item, it’s hard to get any information at all.  They either don’t know or they are reluctant to reveal their own buying secrets.

I found the above two-piece dress at a vintage show in Charlotte several months ago.   At first I spotted the wrap top, and inquired about it.  That’s when the seller told me there was a matching skirt.

When she produced it I was surprised to see that the waist was gathered with elastic.  I was certain that the top was from the 1950s, but while not completely unheard of, most gathered skirts in the 50s did not incorporate elastic.  I was puzzled but not put off, as the selling price was so reasonable,that even if it did turn out to be from the 1980s (which seemed possible at the time) I’d not be out much.  Besides, it was a great novelty print.

I hung the set up just so I could look at it, and after a month or so I decided it was time to get serious.  The blouse wraps and ties at the side.  The way the bodice is gathers into the side is very Claire McCardell.

The sleeves are three-quarters length, and are finished with these nifty pointed cuffs.

Under the arm is a triangular shaped gusset, a typical 1950s sleeve treatment.

The seams are about one-half inch, and are pinked.  This looks to me to be commercially made, though there are no labels.

All the signs in the blouse point to a 1950s manufacture, so why is it that one little element – the gathered waist – was making me doubt that?

Another odd thing about the skirt is the fringed hem.

A tarantella is an Italian folk dance that supposedly would cure one of the poison of a tarantula spider.   That looks like Mount Vesuvius in the background.

So, am I looking at this through 1950s glasses, trying to justify my purchase of a 1980s dress.  Or am I right, and it is a 1950s curiosity?

Update:

I wanted to add two close-ups of the print so it can be seen that the printing is quite good.  The picture part is actually only one and a half inches high.

Here is a view of the stitching of the elastic channels.   Interestingly, the sewing machine was threaded with white on one side and black on the other.  The sides of the skirt are also stitched in these too colors.  I am positive that this is the original waist treatment.  In fact, the only trace of alterations I can detect at all in the set is the addition of a snap closure at the front of the blouse.

I’m convinced that the dress is late 1950s.  Thanks to all of you who helped talk me through this!

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Vintage Christmas Fabric

If you haven’t been into a fabric store recently, especially one that carries mainly printed cottons, you might be really surprised at the huge selection of prints.  There are novelty prints for every hobby and cartoon character and animal.  There are prints for baby, for John Deere drivers, and football fans.  There are hundreds of “retro” prints, some that could easily pass for real vintage.

I actually have a few pieces in my fabric stash that I honestly can’t say what the ages of them are.  Sometimes the width is a clue.  The above pink and red (and awesome) print is 35 inches wide.  The width is a hint, but not a guarantee that the fabric is older than last week.  I do know that this piece is vintage because it came with an original label.

Isn’t the detailing something?

This piece is also vintage.  It is a border print, and it may look like one side of a tablecloth, but it is cotton broadcloth, and was perfect for aprons, gathered skirts, and dresses for little girls.

This is a piece of cotton flannel that I bought from etsy several years ago.  It was sold as vintage, and the fabric is 35 inches wide, but I’ve never been 100% sure that it is vintage.  I’d like to think it is from 1960 or so.  I adore that script font.

I’d like to add that none of these fabrics have information printed on the selvage.  Most modern prints that I’ve looked at in the past five years or so do have a printed selvage.  “Designer” fabrics are a very big deal in the quilting and crafting world, and many have the designer’s name and even the name of the print.

Don’t miss the enlarged version.

And finally, here’s another mystery fabric to ponder.  I have two eighteen inch squares of this print that I bought at my not so secret shopping place about five years ago.  They are edged by an overlock stitch, which might lead one to think they were meant to be napkins.  However, the thread is an ugly grey.

If this is a contemporary print, then the designer got a lot of things right.  The font looks vintage, as do the colors.  The use of the harlequin type diamond print on the packages looks vintage.  The stylized Christmas trees with the atomic shapes look vintage.  I could go on, but you get the point.  It’s almost like every vintage Christmas cliche in thrown into one print.  Too good to be true?  It won’t hurt my feelings if you think it is new.

 

 

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Filed under Holidays, Novelty Prints, Southern Textiles

Novelty Textiles: Nautical

It would be hard to tell the story of American sportswear without using the term nautical.  Some of the very first sportswear garments for women borrowed heavily from the traditional sailor’s uniform.  In the 1800s when more and more women took to sea bathing, their bathing suits often had a sailor collar and middy braid.  Gymnasium attire followed suit, with the middy blouse, modeled after a midshipman’s shirt, becoming the favored top for girls and women’s sports attire.

Through the years a nautical theme has been favored in prints for sports clothing, especially for that made to be worn for a seaside vacation.  I’m always happy to run across novelty print fabric that has a nautical motif.

My latest is this cotton duck from the 1950s or early 60s.  I love the turquoise and yellow colors, but I especially love that Sailmakers font.

Though nautical prints are generally in a red, white, and blue colorway, this print shows that there is no need to be stuck in that design rut.

I found this print several years ago, and it remains a favorite.  There is something especially crisp about blue and green on white.

How about some green and lavender gulls?

In a more traditional vein is this terry cloth.  I’ve got plans to make this into a beach robe.

And finally, not fabric yardage, but a super nautical hankie that has all the bells and whistles.

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