Monthly Archives: February 2012

Quiz: Match the fabric to the pattern

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I have promised a “next” post on a suit which I’ve been working on.  Another project (non-sewing) has taken me away from it for a few days, so it’s not quite finished yet.  However, to keep my promise, I’m offering a teaser:  can you pick the pattern which I am using to make my suit?

Here is the fabric, a lovely, finely woven and incredibly soft, windowpane check wool from France, which I purchased at Britex last summer in San Francisco:

The repeat on this fabric is 7", so it's a fairly bold check in soft black and beige

Here is another shot of the fabric, with my tomato pin cushion on it to help you determine its scale.

And here are four patterns.  Which one do you think I selected to make in this fabric?  (Click on the photos to see the patterns in more detail.)

Choice # 1: This pattern is copyright 1958. I featured it in an earlier post.

Choice # 2: Here is another pattern which I have already featured in an earlier post. It is copyright 1959. This pattern includes the blouse pattern, too.

Choice # 3: This pattern is also copyright 1958. It has kimono sleeves rather than set-in sleeves, and the skirt has no darts; rather the seams are curved to fit the hips and waist.

Choice #4: There is no copyright on this pattern, but I judge it to be from about 1962 (the hairdos and the increased pattern price are good clues!) This pattern also includes the blouse pattern.

Keep in mind that this fabric presents significant “plaid matching” challenges, which I had to consider when I decided on the pattern.  The more seams in a pattern, the higher the challenge (usually).  So – was I safe and cautious, or gutsy and daring?


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Does sewing suit you?

Last week I saw a television spot, which gave a short biography of the wife of someone who is in the news quite a bit right now.  The reporter/commentator referred to the wife’s modest upbringing, with a statement that her mother even had to make her childhood clothes for her (to drive home the point about them not being wealthy, I suppose.)  The reporter then went on to say that now this wife only wears the finest (sniff, sniff) tailored suits, as if to imply that wearing all those homemade clothes is something she’d rather forget.

Well, pardon me, but what a disparaging thing to say about sewing!  Obviously, the reporter has never experienced the satisfaction of sewing for herself or for someone else, nor does she have any idea how ubiquitous home sewing was in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

This little tag can tell you exactly why a mom sews for her child...

And this little tag can tell you why those of us who sew, do so for family and friends of all ages.

All of this got me thinking about the pleasure I get out of sewing, of being creatively  busy, and well, I just thought I’d share some of my thoughts about why I enjoy sewing, and especially fashion sewing, so much.  I know there are some of you who are not sewers, but I’ll bet most of you have a mom, or aunt, or sister, or know someone who is, so I hope my thoughts will have some relevance for you, too.  So here goes – my essential eight:

#1:  In 1970 when I was still in college I asked for and received The Vogue Sewing Book for Christmas. Its first chapter is entitled Fashion Sewing as an Art Form and this is a direct quote:  “A person who sews is a creative artist because she individualizes fashion to her own special preferences and requirements.” Plain and simple, I like being creative and an artist.

Here is my copy of The Vogue Sewing Book, with its slipcover. I can't say enough good things about this book! Copies of it appear for sale on eBay and Etsy occasionally.

Here is a fly sheet which came with the book. Listed right at the top is "Fashion Sewing as an Art Form."

#2:  The pleasure of choosing and handling beautiful fabrics is indescribable – go to a store like Britex in San Francisco and you’ll see how intoxicating fine fabrics can be. Yes, I’m a hopeless textilian.

#3:  The saturation, variety and combination of colors in silks and wools, in linens and cottons is visually so satisfying and inspiring.

#4:  I am a very goal-oriented person:  I love the practice of starting a project (garment) and seeing it through from start to finish, and then once it’s complete, moving on to another one.  In other words, sewing is composed of finite steps – there is a beginning, a middle, and an end – and then you have (hopefully, at least) something to show for it.

#5:  I love detail work (like hand-sewing) – and good sewing has lots of details to it!

#6:  Vogue patterns – and especially the ones from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and the designer ones – are such a pleasure to use.  Most are gems of design, construction, and style.

#7:  Speaking of construction, the challenge of putting the parts together, and figuring out the intricacies of construction is just so much fun.  When I get a new (old) pattern, the first thing I do is take out the instruction sheets to read them. Hm-m-m, do you think I might be a little nuts – or just an engineer at heart?

#8: I get the heebiejeebies if I sit too long – and sewing is definitely an active sport!  I’m constantly up and down from my machine, back and forth from the ironing  board, standing at my work table, picking up pins off the floor, etc. etc.  No fanny fatique from this activity!

I’ll end by deferring to a great American writer for his poignant statement about women who sew:  “It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their hearts than while so occupied.”  While I can only hope to strive towards high thoughts and accomplishments, being at home with one’s heart is always a good place to be.

Years ago, a friend had this quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne done in calligraphy for me. I framed it and have it hanging in my sewing room.

Oh yes – about those finely tailored suits referred to by the clueless reporter?  I can show her more amazing patterns for beautiful suits than she could ever imagine – and in my next post, I’ll be writing about my newest creation.  Yes, it’s a suit!


Filed under Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

“When in doubt, wear red.”

Bill Blass, noted American designer (1922 – 2002), knew of what he spoke when he expressed this savvy advice.   Red, in all its various hues, is a color which commands attention, and therefore, it is no wonder that fashion sketches and dress patterns often feature red.  Red also figures distinctly in three months whose “colors” always include red:  December’s red and green; July’s red, white and blue; and, of course, February’s red, red, and red.

To celebrate February’s red, I have scoured my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines and my collection of vintage patterns to showcase some beautiful fabric and dress/suit/loungewear designs.  No doubt (pardon the pun), Mr. Blass would approve.

The February/March 1957 issue of  Vogue Pattern Book  magazine shows two pages of “Red – deep and rosy”.  While the red coat and two red dresses are obvious “fits” for the section, the mustard yellow suit (raw silk, according to the caption, which would be so elegant!) is completed with a red and green printed silk turban and red pumps.  (Hint for viewing:  click on the photos to see them larger and clearer.)

The middle suit looks to be a blue and red printed-silk surah, while the evening gown is to be made in a silk organdie.

This coat has a high waist and deep pleats. Wear this over the black dress for a stunning look!

That same year, the June/July issue showed this lovely choice in cherry-red pique for “sight-seeing.”  No blue jeans and tee shirts for this excursion.

The wide brim hat with red flowers completes the look.

In 1958 (or in 2012), a chic home sewer could make this suit in a red tweed with self or braid binding.

Notice the stylish shoes!

Here is a suit from 1960 with a matching, reversible cape. The cape has arm openings in the side seams and is collarless so that it fits perfectly under the collar on the suit jacket.

Who says "redheads" can't wear red?

Here is a close-up of the cape. The leopard-printed lining matches her hat.

Red print fabrics have spun their own charm over the years.  Here are four, which seem to epitomize another statement from Bill Blass: “…fabric is an inspiration and a tool.” (See International Vogue Pattern Book  October/November 1971, page 27.)  I could definitely be inspired by these prints:

This wonderful giraffe print in red on white cotton, with stars, is shown in a skirt and blouse. There was no mention about the matching parasol. This design is in the April/May 1953 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

This 1958 design features a daisy print silk lining in the coat.

The dress and coat are made in a slubbed silk barathea while the lining and hat are of silk surah, both by Couture, according to the February/March Vogue Pattern Book of that year.

This fabric is rightly referred to as "Square red of wonderful"!

This silk surah looks equally eye-catching in a slim or full skirt. I'll have one of each, thank you!

What I wouldn't do to be able to buy this printed silk! This pattern was featured in the February/March 1961 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine. According to the description, "this dress has a camisole top underneath its short-sleeved 'popover' top that buttons up the back." With lipstick and shoes to match, it makes a stunning ensemble.

And here are classic polka dots, white on red, in a 1957 blouse design.

A Peter Pan collar and polka dots - a winning combination!

Vogue Pattern Book’s editors often featured styles for college girls and little girls.  Velvet, gingham and candy-striped denim (yes, that’s correct, denim!), all in red, were featured for little girls in the issue for August/September 1960:

This little girl is all set to help "help Mommy cook" in a white pinafore.

These “coeds”, according to the editors of the August/September issue of 1958, were taking a 5-minute study break to model these dorm fashions!

The girl in the harlequin pedal-pusher pants and smock-top looks to me like she’s actually taking a break from her part-time job with the circus, while Miss Muu-Muu is  — chatting on the phone!   Some things never change, just like the timeless appeal of RED.


Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Coats, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Messages from the past: handwritten notes on vintage patterns

Many vintage patterns have a visible stamp on them which tells the name of the store where it was originally purchased.  (Those of us who sew know that patterns, once purchased, are non-returnable – and it seems it was ever so…)  Sometimes the stamp also lists the location of the store, but not always.  Either way, that stamp is a visible clue to the pattern’s past life.

In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stamp for "Fashion Fabric Center" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This pattern is from the early '70s.

If you look closely, you can see the stamp on this envelope which tells you it was purchased from Meier & Frank Pattern Department, Portland, Oregon. This pattern is from the 1950s.

I can’t help but visualize a well-put-together woman perched on a stool at the pattern counter of the mentioned store,  thoughtfully flipping through the pages of the Vogue Pattern catalogue, and finally settling on this one pattern.  I wonder what occasion, if any, she was making it for?  Was she, like I was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, agonizing a bit over spending 75 cents or $1 or $3 or $5 for just a pattern, and then loving it once the decision was made?  Was she buying it to make it herself or in coordination with a dressmaker who would be the one to create it for her?  What fabric and color was she intending for the pattern?  Or did she buy the pattern and then, for one reason or another, never make the intended garment?

And then, every once in a while, there is a handwritten note or diagram on a pattern envelope.

These jottings, sometimes cryptic, other times precise, provide clues which begin to answer some of those questions.  In the months I have been buying vintage patterns, I have found myself privy to some of these “messages” from the past – and here are the small stories they tell:

Fit seems to be an important focus.  Kudos to those dressmakers who recorded their difficulties on the pattern envelope!

I think this lady should have purchased a larger size! She needed to add 1" center front and center back!

Beware! Poor fit in jacket! But I bet it was lovely in coral nonetheless.

Check out this listing on Etsy to see a rather melancholy note about fit:  “would have been best to have gotten the med. size.”  I guess that pattern ran large!

Choice of fabric and color (see above image) are also details which have been noted, sometimes multiple times on the same envelope.

I think this pattern must have belonged to a professional dressmaker. She made it up in red and green wool for Audrey Dolan, with long gathered sleeves. It looks like she also made it in tan and in a print (Prt) with 3/4 sleeves. The pattern tissue is still in great condition, despite all that pinning and cutting!

This pattern obviously belonged to a lady who was either a dressmaker, noting her expenses, or a home sewer who kept careful records for her household/clothing budget.

This lady must have made this dress in coordination with another pattern. Both patterns together cost her $2.50. She was also buying multiple zippers, to the tune of 80 cents! Her big expenditure was fabric (material), which she lists at $8.00.

And here is a pattern which Mrs. John Morton “Chgd” [Charged]  Perhaps she did not have to be as careful with her expenditures!

I think Mrs. John Morton was one stylish lady!

This next pattern is a study in contradictions:  The owner has carefully noted some yardage requirements, written notes to remind herself to “get seam finisher for beige jacket” and “also get seam binding for dress”.  But the pattern came to me uncut, factory-folded and therefore unused, with its original Vogue label included.  I wonder what prevented her from ever making this lovely jacket and dress?

We know she intended to make the jacket in beige, but she doesn't tell us about her color choice for the dress!

Next, it’s always fun to see someone’s intended changes to the line or details of the pattern.  Here are two examples:

View A on the far left just did not suit this sewer. She wants to extend the length of the coat, and add the collar. What she is really saying is that she wants to make view B, but with top-stitching!

It seems lengthening coats was a popular thing to do! This lady drew the longer version of the coat (on the left) and was still deciding on making the pockets "slash" pockets instead of flap pockets!

Finally, sometimes all that is on a pattern envelope is a name – a simple notation, which quietly transcends the years!

Look below the figure in red and blue for the name written in pencil.

Here is a close-up of the signature. This pattern belonged to Mrs. Jim Spencer.

Mrs. Jim Spencer, I bet you looked fabulous in this suit!


Filed under Coats, Dressmaker details, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns