Monthly Archives: February 2020

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.










Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):










Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.



Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

The Horsey Set

How long must a fabric be in one’s possession before it can be considered “not new”? This is an important consideration to fashion sewing if you are, like me, always trying to use one of my “collected” fabrics, as opposed to purchasing new.  I tend to think if I have owned a fabric for at least three or four months, then it is no longer new (maybe newer, but not new.)  So, please indulge me as I congratulate myself on using this fabric, purchased last September from Farmhouse Fabrics.

This fabric is a 100% wool challis.

As soon as I spied it on their website, I knew I wanted to make a shirtwaist dress.  When it arrived, its fate was sealed, as its weight (very light), its drape (very fluid), and its allover meandering print made it perfect for such a dress with a bit of fullness in the skirt.  And I just happened to have the perfect pattern, too, purchased several years ago from an Etsy store.

I used View A for this project, with the self sash.

Making the muslin (toile) for this dress identified several areas which needed adjustment, specifically the back of the bodice, the shoulders/upper sleeve, and the waist.  I added shoulder darts to the back of the bodice and was able to minimize a saggy back by making a horizontal dead dart across the lower back of the muslin .

Shoulder darts are a great addition to this pattern.

In addition, I elongated the top of the sleeve by about 3/8” and replaced the normal easing in the sleeve cap with a dart.

The dart in the top of the sleeve is visible on the right.

The waist?  Well, unfortunately I just needed to make it larger, taking a bit from each skirt pleat to accommodate the extra girth of the bodice.

I thought long and hard about how to underline/line this fabric in order to preserve and enhance its qualities.  I felt a silk organza underlining would add too much body to this soft and fluid wool challis.  On the other hand, an underlining provides that wonderful surface on which to secure interior stitches (such as the hem, the facings, the seam allowances) invisibly.  I finally decided to underline the body of the dress with a very fine black cotton batiste and forego a separate lining.  I also used the cotton batiste as the interfacing in the collar, the cuffs and the front facings.  The sleeves I left un-underlined.

Knowing the seam allowances would be exposed inside the dress led me to finish off those raw edges with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.

Because I was working with wool, I decided to make bound buttonholes.  This decision probably added at least ten hours onto the making of this dress.  Memo to self – if the buttonholes are small, and the fabric frays easily, and the fabric is dark, it’s probably best to avoid bound buttonholes.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

But the silver lining – or should I say gold lining – to the whole buttoning aspect of this dress is what I found for those little fasteners which can make or break a project.  And here is where my  predilection for much-loved vintage elements sneaks in oh-so-gently.  Because this fabric is dark and rich in appearance, I felt a contrast button would be best.  But the button would have to be equally rich in appearance, preferably enhancing a design element in the print.  Here are the buttons I used:

And here were three other choices:

The cross-hatching in my chosen buttons picks up the woven rope design in this equestrian print, and I think adds just a tiny bit of sparkle to what is otherwise a tailored dress.  Because they are tiny, they are not overpowering.

It is really difficult to get an actual true color for this fabric…. It is more maroon than it appears here.

And where, you may ask, did I find these four sets of buttons from which to choose?  Vintage they are, all four, all purchased bulk by my mother in the 1950s from a manufacturer of quality dresses for little girls.  The store was Ruth Originals in Asheville, North Carolina (USA).  Over the last 30 to 40 years, I have often searched in this magic box of buttons given to me by my mother, sometimes finding exactly what I need, other times not.  My quest this time was for a “horse of a different color” and that is what I found.

I also like this dress with a black belt rather than the sash.

I am very excited to make this pattern again – and again – and again, hopefully using long-stockpiled fabrics – and buttons with a similar rich history.


Filed under Uncategorized