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…”
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!
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!
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.