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.
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.
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 found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:
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.
It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.
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.
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 . . .