Tag Archives: Sewing

1946 Butterick Slippers

On a recent visit to an antique mall, I acquired three 1940s catalog magazines for the home sewer. In one of them, Fall 1946 Butterick, was a pattern for slippers, designed to be made of felt. We know that WWII ended a year earlier, but supplies of clothing and such was still a bit iffy in the USA, and totally nonexistent in European countries. The world was still in make-it mode. In that spirit, Butterick published a fun and easy pattern to make one’s own slippers.

I thought I had some felt, but it was not to be found. Then, I thought, why not felt some wool for the slippers, but still I had none that I wanted to risk ruining. So plan C emerged when I spotted my stash of antique wool paisley scraps. I had accumulated quite a nice pile of these scraps from flea markets, and quite unbelievably, the Goodwill bins.

It was obvious that I was turning simple felt slippers into a more time and labor intensive project. But, if there is one thing I have at the present, it’s time. So I cut out the pieces and went to work. One thing I can say with certainty, making these from non-raveling felt would be a quick and easy project. But dealing with the paisley meant that all the edges would have to be secured to prevent raveling.

For the upper edges I simply stitched the right sides of the slipper and the lining (also made from paisley) and turned and topstitched. The soles presented more of a problem.

At first I thought I’d blanket stitch all around the sole, but it just looked too messy to me. I ended up hand stitching black twill tape around the edges, securing the uppers to the sole. You can see that in the finished photo at the top of this post. Finishing involved attaching ribbon ties that threaded through buttonholes. With that, the slippers where finished.


The pattern is very straight-forward. There are three pieces – sole, heel, and upper toes. I reinforced with heavy interfacing, and lined each piece before assembling. I also added a layer of cotton batting to the soles.


If you are interesting in trying this project, I have included the pattern pieces, along with a ruler showing the sizing. I wear a size 6 shoe, but I made a toile and discovered that the pattern was oversized. I ended up cutting out the size 5, and even it had to be cut down a bit.

And now, a bit more about the fabric:

Paisley shawls were imported from central Asia into England, France and other European countries starting in the late 18th century. Especially in Victorian times, these were an essential part of a fashionable woman’s wardrobe. Many survive, but many others were cut up to make robes, coats, handbags, and such after they ceased to be fashionable.

One of the pieces I have was cut and sewn into a robe or banyan. While examining it to find pieces for my slippers, I found the above label in one of the sleeves. I posted it on Instagram, because many times the knowledgeable historians there can explain puzzling objects such as this label. No one seemed to know for sure, but after much discussion, I believe it was a label put there by the maker, or more likely, the importer.

Other theories were that it was a museum label, or a cleaning label. I’ve pretty much decided against those two theories, but I’m open to being persuaded. Let me know if you make a pair of these for yourself.


Filed under Uncategorized

Sewing Project: Simplicity 2208

It’s been a while since I did a post on what I’ve been sewing. That doesn’t mean I’ve not been sewing, only that I forget to make photos during the process. Lately I’ve been turning a stack of lightweight cottons into lightweight cotton tops for the hot weather. Not too exciting, but quickness of the makes and the wearability of the garments have been rewarding.

This jacket was an earlier spring project. I found the pattern above at the Goodwill Outlet some time ago. I seems like all the sewing patterns go directly into the bins, as I’ve never seen any in the regular retail stores. My guess is that they do require a special customer, like me. When I run across them in the bins, I pretty much buy any that I might possibly want to make.

The fabric is a two-sided cotton that I bought at Mood in New York City about three years ago. My plan for it was always a jacket. When I saw view C of the pattern, I put it in my sewing queue. It was not until I started to cut the fabric that I noticed there were no pockets. That’s not such a big deal, as pockets are easy to add, but who designs a jacket without pockets? Neither of the two coats have pockets either. Puzzling!

The texture and weight of the fabric is really perfect for a spring jacket. My plan was to make use of both sides of the fabric.

I made the binding from a linen that I had that was a good match. All the seams were sewn with wrong sides together, and then the binding applied over the exposed seams.

The pattern called for a separating zipper, but I did not have one that would work. so I decided instead to go with hook and eyes. I had a bunch of these larger brass-finished ones that worked nicely.

I thought a long time about how I wanted to do the pockets. At first I considered doing in-seam side pockets, but settled on interior pockets instead. They are quite deep, as I like to carry too much stuff. One even has snaps to make my stuff more secure.

And here is the finished jacket. Sorry about the floor shot but it really is the best way for you to see how it all came together. I took it with me to the Midwest, and wore it quite a bit as it helped to break up all the black I tend to wear while traveling.


Filed under 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.


Filed under 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.


Filed under Sewing, Viewpoint

Couture Sewing: The Couture Skirt by Claire Shaeffer

Claire Shaeffer’s method of making a couture skirt is one of those projects that has you wondering what you got yourself into, and then it all comes together and all is right in the world. I don’t mind spending a lot on time on one project, as I have enough clothes to do me for a while, and I sew to try and do something useful with all the piles of fabric around here.  In this case I saw an opportunity to use two pieces of great material – a silk and cashmere blend plaid, and a silk print in a similar colorway.

All of the books in Claire’s couture series come with a dvd that shows the how-to step by step.  I’m a very visual learner, and so the dvds are essential for me.  It helps actually seeing her work through the steps.

She suggests that the maker of this skirt start with any straight skirt pattern.  I actually had a vintage pattern that has a front wrap.  She gives the directions on how to add the wrap, but this saved me a step.  In this skirt, there are no side seams, so I had to place the front and back pieces together at the side to make one large combination piece.  The only two actual seams in the skirt are the center back and the waist band.

Straight skirts have  darts at the waist to allow for the proper fit, but in this skirt the fullness is steamed out rather than darted.  I did have to end up doing a dart at each side as there was just too much fullness to steam out.

Here you can see where I eased in the fullness at the waist.  The diagonal basting is to secure where the quilting lines went.  Yes, the lining and the fabric are quilted, just as in a Chanel jacket.  You can’t tell in my photograph, but I had to overcast the edges to cut down on fraying.

Because of the easing, the plaid lines don’t match up on the waistband.  I’m not so picky that this bothers me, and I don’t like tops to be tucked into a waistband, so it will never show.

The waistband is interfaced with petersham.  After sewing the band to the skirt, it is lined with the silk.

Here you can see the inside of the waistband.  You can also see the top of the zipper closure.  The zipper is put in by hand, and then the lining is slip-stitched to the zipper tape.  The band closes with two hook and eyes.  Even though this looks like a wrap skirt, it is actually a faux wrap, with the overlapping fronts both being attached to the same section of waistband.

To reduce bulk over the stomach, the wool plaid is actually cut away on the under-wrap.  To me, this was the hardest thing, because I was terrified I’d cut too much.  But it is an excellent technique, and really does remove fabric where most women don’t want that extra layer.  I finished the edges where the plaid was cut using a blanket stitch.

You also get a good look at the quilting which is seen on the lining, but is masked by the lines of the plaid of the fashion fabric.

This is the lower edge of the skirt, showing the wrap at the hem.  All the edges of the skirt were slip-stitched.  It you do not like hand stitching, this is not the project for you.

And finally, after more than a month of slip-stitching, the skirt was completed.  I’m sorry that the model is missing her head, but that is the fault of the photographer.



Filed under Vintage Clothing

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, 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 Sewing