Monthly Archives: September 2018

An Early Lesson in the Connoisseurship of Fabric

Like so many children who grew up in the 1950s, I wore, for the most part, clothes made by my mother. For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in Asheville, North Carolina.  Although decades have passed since last I lived there, it is those early homemade clothes that infuse my memory of those years and that place. I had an early interest in fabric and sewing and loved to help pick out selections from which my mother would make dresses and play clothes for my older sister and me.

We lived on a very steep road, dotted with houses on either side of it.  Two houses away from ours lived an older couple, whose names I cannot remember.  The wife worked in the fabric department at Ivey’s, a large store in the city of Asheville. She knew that my mother sewed, and one day she told my mother that the sewing department was getting ready to dispose of some of its older fabrics, which would be free for the taking by employees. She wanted my mother to have a couple of these pieces, completely free of cost. My mother was quite excited, and she told my sister and me that perhaps it would be something she could use to make us new dresses.

The December/January 1953-54 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine had this clever feature, Resort Fabric Story (“taste the pleasures”), showing some of the fabric choices for the upcoming Spring and Summer. Perhaps my mother was hoping for something similar to a few of these prints.

We anxiously waited for the day when we could go to our neighbor’s house and pick up our promising parcel.  Then – finally – Mrs. Neighbor-two-doors-away called to say she had the fabric for us.  I remember well my feelings of anticipation and excitement as the three of us practically skipped down our road to her house.

Her living room was dark, despite the large picture window framing one side of it.  None of the furniture looked like it would be comfortable to sit on.  I was struck by the appearance of one rocking chair, the wooden arms of which were in the shape of swans’ heads.  Everywhere were china figurines and plastic flowers in vases.  The room smelled like last night’s supper.  On the sofa, which she called a davenport, was a package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

Our neighbor ceremoniously announced that this was the fabric, and she motioned to my mother to open the package.  It contained two pieces of cloth.  One was a non-descript dark tan, heavy and dull, certainly nothing that could be used for dresses.  The other piece was a very large floral print in pink, drab olive green, and smudgy brown – yards and yards of it.  It was hideous.  My mother very graciously thanked her and told her what lovely pieces they were, and off we went with our weighty cargo.

This ad in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features Bates “disciplined” fabric. “It’s like magic how beautifully your sewing dreams materialize with Bates Disciplined fabric,” proclaims the caption.  Obviously, what we received from our neighbor was more nightmare than magical dreams!

When, on our trudge back home up our mountain road, I asked my mother if she liked the fabric, she only said that it was very kind of Mrs. Neighbor-two-doors-away to give us these pieces.  I wanted to say that I really didn’t like either piece very much, but I kept quiet.  I could see my mother was disappointed, and it made me feel so badly.  What good was something that was free, if you did not like it, I wondered? I also wondered what my mother would do with it.

It did not take long to get the answer to that question.  My mother had grown up during the Great Depression, when no one wasted anything, ever.  Nor would this dubious gift go to waste.  Out of the heavy tan fabric, she made shorts for us.  I so disliked  wearing them as they were scratchy and stiff.  I must have thankfully grown out of them quickly, as I don’t recall wearing them very often.

I was more worried about my mother’s plans for the pink floral fabric.  Looking back now, I think it must have been very poor quality cotton or heavy rayon.  My mother made a play dress out of it for me, with matching bloomers. It, too, was scratchy, and although I would not have known the concept of drape at my young age, I noticed that it did not move with me, but rather hung as a tent from my shoulders.  I remember unhappily wearing this outfit, but at age four or five, I did not have much say in the matter.   It was so unlike the other cute play clothes and pretty dresses made by my mother; I suspect she thought so, too.

Occasionally I think back on those days so long ago, and I recognize how much they shaped me as a dressmaker.  My love for, and my insistence upon using beautiful, fine quality fabrics – once I began sewing for myself – certainly were born during those years.  I learned the value in seeking out fabrics worthy of my time and effort, those which would give me enjoyment in their wearing, and which would impart a sense of refinement and style in their tactile and visual qualities.

I love this ad on the inside back cover of the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, with its declaration that “fine fabrics are the foundation of fashion.”

Sometimes the best lessons, and the ones remembered so well, are those illustrating the worst example of something.  I did not know it at the time, but that brown paper package, with its ugly fabric inside, gave me an unexpected and invaluable life-long lesson in the connoisseurship of beautiful fabric.

 

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Filed under Love of sewing, Quotes about sewing, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

A Definite ‘60’s Vibe

“Unexpected,” “unusual,” “fascinating,” and even “a bit magical” are words used to describe some of the fabrics, prints and designs from the late ’60s/early ’70s (The Editor’s Letter, Vogue Pattern Book International, April/ May 1970.)  Although I have no documentation, I am sure that this red and white Moygashel linen is from those last years of the 1960s or early years of the ’70s.

Of course, another clue to the age of this Moygashel linen is its width of 45″. Prior to about 1964, Moygashel was only available in 35 or 36″ width, as best as I can determine.

A quick look through some of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from this time period uncovered other fabric designs which have a similar feel to them.

This dress appeared in the April/May 1970 Vogue Pattern Book International, page 16.

 

This large, irregular leaf print was shown in the February/March 1968 issue of Vogue Pattern Book International, page 11.

 

Even this sewing machine ad features a dress with an abstract geometric fabric design. Again, this is from the February/March 1968 Vogue Pattern Book International, page 24.

 

And here is another spectacular Moygashel linen, advertised in the April/May 1970 Vogue Pattern Book International, page XXIV. Cute dresses!

Interestingly enough, these demonstrative and colorful fabric designs were often sewn from the same or similar patterns as their more demure pastel and solid counterparts. I kept that in mind as I contemplated which pattern to use for this “unusual” and “fascinating” linen. Additionally, I wanted to pair it with a red linen belt  (which I ordered several years ago when I knew that Pat Mahoney was closing her custom belt and button business.  The red linen is some I fortuitously had left over from some of my sewing in the early 1970s.)

Then, after the recent success of my fairly dramatic changes to this pattern – and knowing I had a great muslin from which to work – I went with it again.

Here is the result:

I definitely had some issues with the very uneven grid.  I took a lot of pictures of the fabric arranged on my dress form before I started to lay out the pattern.  This helped me to visualize the areas which needed some regularity (if you can call it that!)  I realized quickly, in order to achieve a semblance of matching in the critical areas, I would have to accept way less than perfect in other areas.  Because the entire geometric design is so irregular, I have, I think, made peace with this decision.  (I haven’t worn the dress yet, so the proof of this is still to be determined.)

The bodice front seemed to me to be the most critical, and I wanted that three-striped horizontal motif to follow across the upper bustline.

 

The back proved to be a bit more problematic, as three quarters of it lined up fairly well, with one section off on the left side.  Because the side piece wraps around the side (as in no side seam), there was only so much I could do in order to be able to “match” the front.  Additionally, I thought it was more important to have the back center seam, rather than the side back seam, positioned correctly, so that’s what I did.

Am I going to have the nerve to wear this dress?

I may end up loving it??

I lined the entire dress with a very lightweight linen cotton blend, eliminated facings for the neck and armholes, and finished those areas with a typical couture treatment.

Because the skirt lining is unattached, I finished off the seams of the linen with Hug Snug rayon tape.

I did not use a silk organza underlining, as I like my linen dresses to be washable. Without that inner layer of organza, I had to be very careful with sewing the hem, to try to make it as unnoticeable as possible.

I doubt I will have a chance to wear this dress yet this Fall.  The later it gets, the odder it will look.  That’s okay.  I’m ready to move on to something more subdued – but hopefully “a bit magical” will still be in the equation.

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Filed under couture construction, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns