Tag Archives: pattern

Making The Easy Scarf Dress

I recently picked up this 1970s pattern because I was curious about the process of making a dress from two scarves.  This is just the type of thing I was into when I was in high school and college.  In fact, I once made a mini dress out of a pillowcase after seeing it done on a local “home-maker” TV program, but that’s another story for another time.

This pattern says it is easy, and after looking at the pattern piece and the directions, I agree.  This is easy:

That is the entire set of instructions for the dress!  It would take you longer to cut this out than it would take to sew it up.  Two side seams, two inches on either side of the neck, and Voila!  A new scarf mini dress.  No finishing and no hemming required.

Seriously, I think this is a really fun idea.  The scarves would not even have to be identical.  And notice that in the view on the far left, two sheer scarves were made into a bikini cover-up.  But if you are tall and want to wear this as a dress, I suggest 36″ scarves.  Or you could use a smaller size to make a top.


Filed under Sewing

The Spadea Pattern Company

Several years ago I pieced together a little historic information about the Spadea Pattern Company.  If you are a collector of vintage patterns, then you are familiar with Spadea patterns.  To the collector, these are some of the best patterns produced in the 20th century.  But most people have never heard of Spadea, as the company has been out of business for some time, and its history largely forgotten.

I wrote the article based on information I found in some of the books and brochures published by Spadea, and after I originally put the article online, I heard from Anne Spadea Combs, the daughter of the founders of the company.  With her help I was able to update my information and add some details to the story.

Spadea was actually Jean Miller Spadea.  She was a fashion artist-illustrator and husband James Spadea was a magazine ad man when they met and married in 1925.  In the 1930s they started a publishing venture and launched a beauty magazine, You.  The magazine had been financed primarily by money Jean Spadea made working as a freelance illustrator for New York City stores such as Bonwit Teller and Saks Fifth Avenue. The magazine was published starting in 1937, but due to a lack of advertising dollars during World War II, the magazine folded in the early 1940s.

James Spadea continued working as an ad man, and one of his accounts was Butterick patterns.  From Jean’s work as a fashion illustrator, she knew many of the top designers of the day.  James got the idea to use these contacts to start a new line for Butterick; designer patterns.  When Butterick rejected the idea, James and Jean decided to try the idea themselves.

In the late 1940s they had formed Spadea Syndicate, Inc, a company that syndicated columns and cartoons to newspapers nationwide.  Around 1951, they started a syndicated column of sewing tips, You’re Sew Right.

The column was used to market the new line of patterns, called American Designer’s Patterns.   After a pattern was developed, Jean Spadea would sketch the finished product for the column and for the pattern instructions.  A lot of the earlier patterns are actually signed “Spadea”.

The patterns were later called Spadea Designer Patterns, and by the mid 1950s a new line, International Designer Patterns by Spadea was launched.  This line was conceived while the Spadeas were traveling in Europe.

The company did not do things the way other pattern companies did.  To begin with, their sizing was different.  Instead of using the “Government Standard Sizing” for patterns, Spadea used sizing that was in line with regular ready-to-wear clothing. 

Spadea patterns were cut directly from a master pattern which was taken from the original garment.  Great care was taken to reproduce the original as closely as possible, but to do so in a way that made the construction doable by the home sewer. 

Then a muslin garment was made from the new pattern, which was fitted on the Spadea’s fit model, their daughter Anne.  The pattern was adjusted to fit a size 12, and was then sized up and down.  The muslin  was also sketched by Jean Spadea for the newspaper column and the catalog.  As the company grew, new illustrators had to be hired, and Jean Spadea no longer did the illustrations.

Eventually the pattern maker at Spadea got to be so good at her job that she could just look at a dress and reproduce it in the form of a pattern.  That way the original garment was left intact.

Many of the great designers of the 1950s and 60s had their garments reproduced by Spadea, including Claire McCardell, Joset Walker,  Bill Blass,  Ceil Chapman and Donald Brooks.   The designers’ sewing and tailoring hints were included in the newspaper column, and in 1967 were published as a book.  In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Spadea worked with the Duchess of Windsor to develop pattern designs.  They also worked with actress and singer Dinah Shore.

Even though all the other pattern companies had turned to printed patterns, Spadea continued to make theirs perforated and precut.  They claimed that this gave the home sewer a more accurate way to mark the fabric. 

Jean Spadea retired in 1967, but the pattern company continued  under the ownership of her daughter Anne and her husband.  They sold the company around 1976, and the pattern business was phased out and closed by the new owners.    Jean Spadea died in Florida in 1983

UPDATE: Sadly, Anne Spadea Combs died in 2018/


Filed under Sewing

Latest Sewing Project – Stephen Burrows Dress

I’ve had this 1974 pattern by designer Stephen Burrows hanging on my idea board for some time, and last week I finally got around to making it.  Burrows was one of the bright young designers who designed clothes that were perfectly in step with the late 1960s and into the 70s.  I’ll be writing more about him this week, as I feel like he is not as well known as he should be.

I fell in love with this pattern the minute I spotted it.  I did have concerns about the collar, as I usually don’t like anything quite that big.  But it didn’t *scream* 1970s, so I made the decision not to alter it.  I’m glad I did, because it is just right with a scarf tied beneath.

And that, dear friends, is why Burrows is a designer and I am not.  Just because one wears clothes does not mean one can design them.  (Are you listening, celebrity-designer-wannabes?)

I made this from a wonderful double knit cotton jersey I had stashed away.  Don’t hear double knit and think , “Yuck!”   This fabric is a very far cry from the double knit polys of the 1970s, though I’d bet that most incarnations of this pattern were actually made in poly double knit.  Double knit merely means that the fabric is knit with a double stitch that makes the knit the same on both sides.  There honestly is not a wrong side to this fabric.  It was knit as a tube, and is probably the nicest cotton knit I’ve ever sewn.

Note that the pattern cover features this dress in bright colors and in white.  1974 was not a big year for the little black dress, and Stephen Burrows was known for his use of exciting color.

The pattern, McCall’s 4089, was simple to make, and went together in just a few hours time.  I really recommend it if you are in the market for a simple, but not plain, knit dress.


Filed under Sewing

The 1960s Surfer Shirt

In the mid 1960s we called this the surfer shirt, and it was all the rage in my little town. No matter that we were six hours from the nearest ocean, and none of us had ever been anywhere near a surf board.  We were under the influence of the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies of the day, and the Beach Boys were as strong as ever.    I think my older brother had these shirts in every color and in several madras plaids, and I had a couple of plaid ones myself.

I found this pattern and thought how much fun it would be to just run one up for old times sake.  I already had some vintage cotton chambray and red bias binding, thanks to my proclivity toward fabric hoarding, so I was in business.  The shirt was just as easy to make as it looks, with only four pieces.  It did take some time, as I put the bias on by hand, and did the buttonholes by hand, and did flat-felled seams so there are no raw edges.

In looking for images for this post, I tried looking on-line, but all the photos for surfer shirt came up as either Hawaiian shirts or tee shirts with a surfer dude printed on the front.  So I went to my stack of vintage catalogs.  In a 1964 Montgomery Ward, I did find one of these referred to as “surfer style” but most were called “regatta shirts.”  The same was true in a 1966 JC Penney big book.  I’m very sure we never used the term “regatta” to refer to these shirt or anything else for that matter!  And in one listing it was called a “henley” which I always think of as being made of jersey.

So I’ll stick with surfer shirt, though I do not surf, and won’t see an ocean until October.  It’s still a cool, casual shirt, just right for the hot days ahead.

I used to see these all the time in thrift stores, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t run across one in several years.  Surely not all the Baby Boomers have cleaned out all the closets at the parents’ homes already!

A few catalog examples:

Madras  regatta shirts with appropriate slacks and sweaters, 1966 JC Penney

“Henley collar” shirt, 1965 Montgomery Wards

“Surfer style” 1965 Montgomery Wards

“Racy Regatta Styles” 1966 JC Penney

I’m sure you are are clamoring for a look at the finished product.  So here I am, in the back yard, standing on the beginnings of a new rock patio.  Funny how the photo in which I’m not paying attention to the photographer ends up being the best of the lot.  A model, I am not!


Filed under Sewing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

New Folkwear Pattern – The Metro Middy Blouse

You all know how I love a great middy blouse, so I was tickled to see Folkwear’s latest pattern, an up-dated middy.   This one would be great as a blouse, as seen on the left, but I really love the untucked, swingy version.  This would make a super spring-into-summer jacket.

If you have not already read my homage to the middy, it really is a garment with an interesting history.

Top Image courtesy and copyright of Folkwear

June 18, 1916


Filed under Sewing

Latest Sewing Project

When I bought this great camping print several weeks ago, I had no idea of what I was going to do with it.  A little bit of a novelty print goes a long way on anyone over the age of eight, so I decided to cut the cuteness factor by mixing it with a Black Watch plaid.  The result is what I’m calling the picnic skirt, because even though it’s a camping themed fabric, the skirt is just perfect for picnics off the Blue Ridge Parkway, sitting at a scenic overlook with lunch spread across a cheery tablecloth.

Can you tell I’m ready for summer?

Continue reading


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Latest Vintage Sewing Project – Vogue 9084

I’ve had this super red and grey wool plaid fabric for several years, and I’ve had plans to make a jacket.  But then a red plaid Pendleton 49er came into my life, and I realized I just didn’t need another red plaid jacket.  So I put the fabric on the back burner.  When I found this pattern from the 70s, I knew exactly what the new plan was.

Except for sweaters and jackets, I really don’t wear vintage clothing.  But all my sewing is done with vintage patterns.  I’ve noticed that I’m attracted to two different eras:  the very early 1960s and the mid to late 1970s.  I’ve never been a ruffles and frills type of girl, and so I’m attracted to clean lines and interesting – but minimal – detailing.   This top is exactly the kind of thing I wore in college in the 70s.  I’m not saying my style hasn’t changed in 35 years, but I have come to appreciate what was good about the mid 70s.

I made a lot of my clothes back in the 70s, but I never used Vogue patterns, not when they cost $2.50 each and Simplicity ones were only $1.  It’s just as well, because even today I find that the instructions are often difficult to follow.  The method they used for putting in the front placket and collar were like nothing I’d ever encountered.  I had to finally say, “Forget that,”  and used my own method.  It reminded me of my grandmother, who taught me how to sew.  One day we were working on a project when she told me to do a certain thing that was not what the instruction sheet said to do.  When I told her she wasn’t following the instructions, she replied, “The instructions are for people who don’t know what they are doing.”

For photos of the completed project…


Filed under Sewing