A Fabric and Its Label

Find me a beautiful vintage fabric, accompanied by its original label, and I will tell its story. 

What started off as a simple eBay purchase evolved into something quite unexpected, with secrets and history to reveal. It is all about this piece of vintage Forstmann wool, purchased within the last two years.  

This wool is 56″ wide and I have 1 1/3 yards, just enough for either a skirt or a simple dress.

I was drawn to its vibrant plaid combination of red and green and black and white.  An extra bonus was its attached label and famous brand name.  I was familiar with Forstmann woolens from the time I was a child in the 1950s, and I was aware of its renowned quality.  But I was quite unprepared for the reality of my purchase.  

Immediately upon opening the package, I was struck with two things:  the saturation of the colors and the buttery softness and easy hand of the wool.  I was thrilled with my purchase, and carefully placed it away in my fabric closet, intending to think about it until I had a plan in place.   I would occasionally get it out to admire it, so I felt I was quite familiar with it.  However, it was not until this past Spring when I suddenly realized it was an uneven plaid.  Having just agonized over a dress made from an uneven Linton tweed plaid, and having by this time determined that I wanted to make a sheath dress from this wool, I had one of those dreaded “uh-oh” moments.  My plan seemed to be self-destructing.  An uneven plaid would not do for such a dress.

And then I did something I had yet to do – I opened out the full expanse of the yardage.  That was when I realized the brilliance of the woolen manufacturer.  The wool was loomed with a right and left side, with a center “panel,“ making it possible to have an even orientation of the plaid. Thus, I would be able to balance the plaid on the front and also on the back of the dress I hoped to make.

In the center of this photo is the center point of the wool, with half the width to one side and half to the outer side. Absolutely brilliant.
Here is a close-up, in which the lovely herringbone weave is also beautifully apparent.

With this exciting discovery, I then wanted to know more about when this fabric was manufactured.  I knew that Forstmann Woolen Company had advertised in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I also knew Forstmann woolens were often the fabrics of choice for fashions displayed in the magazine.  A little bit of perusing and detective work helped me narrow down an approximate span of years for the production of my wool.

This full-page advertisement from the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features the label current at that time.  It is probably a precursor to the label I received with my wool.  

I love this ad for many reasons, but especially for the red coat. Isn’t it just so elegant?

I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:

This has to be one of my favorite magazine covers of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines I have.

The inside front cover from October/November 1959 is once again a full-page ad for Forstmann.  The label shown is similar to mine, but not exact. 

This label is another variation, without the descriptive phrase “100% Virgin Wool.” Again, this ad has beautiful depictions of wool, with Vogue patterns chosen for each of them.

It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.  

This ad was prominently placed on the inside front cover of the October/November 1960 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Proof of this partnership was quite apparent by the second half of 1962.  The label featured in this ad actually has Stevens Fabrics woven into the logo.  

From the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

My best guess, from the above references, is that my piece of fabric was manufactured in the second half of the decade of the 1950s.  I have always considered that span of years as the golden age of American fashion.  My fortunate purchase reinforces the knowledge for me of the excellence of design, quality and craftsmanship available to the home sewing industry at that time.  Now – it is up to me to do justice to this piece of Forstmann wool. Amazingly, and with good fortune, the story of this fabric continues some 65 years after its manufacture. 

And here’s to a new year – 2021 – with its own secrets and stories to reveal. May they all be happy ones, waiting to be discovered and shared . . .


Filed under fabric labels, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

30 responses to “A Fabric and Its Label

  1. Love that wool, and the stories you tell about these fabrics and patterns! Happy New Year!

  2. Arleen Lovering

    Thank you Karen, & as an added tidbit assuming you are referencing Stevens fabric mills, my sister-in-law married Bob Stevens son of Stevens mills owner….Happy New Year

  3. PatB

    Interesting story and beautiful fabric. It is absolutely brilliant how they cantered the middle plaid. Happy New Year.

  4. Betty Morgan

    Love the fabric and the history. Sometimes I wish folks could dress nicely now. Just don’t think that will ever come back. I have photos of my mother going shopping in the 1930s with a suit on as a teen. Seems life the 1930s was the peak for dressy wear.

    • I agree, Betty. I think we have lost much by all the dressing down. I do believe dressy wear persisted into the 1950s. As a child, I wasn’t allowed to go into the city (a small city at that) without white gloves on. Yesterday I wore pearls to the grocery store in my own little act of defiance! Maybe next week I’ll wear a dress and heels??

  5. Heather Myers

    Thanks for this! always interesting, and I’m glad your plans can move ahead. 😊 Wow, that blue ensemble in the final ad is stunning!

  6. Mery

    This luscious, gorgeous fabric led us on a trip through the beauty and quality of our generation. Not only will it be lovely on you, but also it’s a gift to the community because this dress will lift the spirits of everyone who sees it. What a happy note onbwhich to start the new year.

  7. What amazing fabric and how brilliant o the manufacturer to mirror image the design. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create.

  8. Janet

    That lovely plaid wool reminds me of skirts and jumpers we all wore (well, not that quality!) when I was in grade school in the 60s. A simpler time, and as another person commented, we all dressed better. Or am I just getting old?

  9. Dear Fifty Dresses: So interesting to read your words! Loved to read about the history of your fabric. Makes me realize why I hold on to a vintage wool coat because “someday” I have plans for it. That wool, too, can only be described as “buttery.” Happy New Year to you!Kind regards,Christine CarrizalesAtlanta, GA

  10. Susanna

    So fascinating! Thanks for the detective work that informed this interesting blog! Can’t wait to see the final product. Love you, Mom!

    • Thank you – and you beat me to it! Right after I published my post, I found numerous examples of my label from the late 1940s. I plan to update the information in this post shortly. However, these discoveries actually pose more questions rather than answers for me. Stay tuned! But please know how much I appreciate your input!

  11. Marguerite

    Happy New Year, Karen! Yes, I remember Frostman wool and made a few things with it back in the 60s. Your right on saying that the late 50s and early 60s were so elegant. They were! Luckily us baby boomers remember them fondly. My mom and aunts were always in stylish suits. Remember walking suits? They were all seamstresses and followed fashion to recreate themselves. Dressing up was a given for everyday life not just a special occasion thing. That’s why I love your blog and creations! Classic and beautiful!

    • It is so lovely to have readers like you, Marguerite. Thank you for your comment and input. We ARE lucky to remember those times when people actually dressed with care and class! (And I am sure I sound like an old fogey saying that, but it’s true!) Happy New Year to you!

  12. Simply gorgeous and timeless fabric and a garment made from this would look wonderful even in this day and age.

  13. Diana Stein

    What an inspiration you are! It’s lovely to know that you were able to bring your vision for this exquisite wool to life just as you had hoped.
    I bought a camel colored Forstmann wool swing coat with a mink collar today at an estate sale store that I simply love strolling through. I was curious about the label and the era that the coat represents. I was born in 1963 and somehow I am hoping that it’s from my birth year. The label is the one with Stevens in the name. Do you know where the wool from this company was produced? I’m also wondering if they made finished products for sale?
    Thank you for sharing your stories!

    • Hi Diana – I apologize for my late reply to you. I would suspect your coat – which sounds absolutely fabulous – is from the 1960s, but I would hesitate to put a year on it without more research and seeing it. I don’t believe Forstmann made finished products, strictly a wool manufacturer, but again, without more research I can not speak definitively. I do know their woolens were of the highest quality. So many of the fabric manufacturers from the middle part of the century have corporate stories which I wish were more available. I find it fascinating how the sewing public was catered to by these top-notch companies.

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