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 . . .
A White Blouse
White blouses (or shirts, if you prefer) seem to occupy a niche all to themselves in the annals of fashion. There is something both unpretentious and elegant about a white blouse. A white blouse is almost always noticed and admired, and even the most tailored white blouse has an air of femininity to it.
Here is what Christian Dior had to say about the color white when he wrote The Dictionary of Fashion in 1954: “White is pure and simple and matches with everything. For daytime it has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate… But nothing gives the impression of good grooming and being well dressed more quickly than spotless white…” (Published again in 2007 by Abrams, New York, New York; page 120).
What could be a better example of being well dressed than this white blouse featured in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (page 28)? With its tucks and French cuffs, it is both demure and sophisticated.
Now this is an elegant blouse!
Timeless is another description that could be given to the classic white blouse. Here is one featured in the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, page 49. “In suburbia, nothing has as much unstudied elegance as a classic neat, white shirt…”
By the 1970s, collars look like they had overtaken the world, but even with its outsized points, the white blouse gives this velvet suit its focal point:
This is an advertisement for Crompton velvet, featuring a Vogue pattern (Yves St. Laurent evening suit), page XVI of the October/November 1971 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.
The Wall Street Journal had a full-page feature on The White Shirt in the Weekend Section of March 26-27, 2016. “Always timely and the quickest shortcut to chic,” says the caption. Part of the feature is shown here:
Although the article fixated on RTW white shirts, a small section was absolutely apropos for those of us who make our white shirts. Finding your Match maintains that there is a certain chemistry involved in finding the perfect shirt for oneself, and it emphasized the importance of choosing the right fabric. While cotton is usually the preferred fabric, even it is subject to an appropriate quality and weave. Choosing a pure cotton fabric will necessitate a commitment to laundering and ironing. Quoted from the article, “You can throw it in the machine, but for a finished look, Ms [Carolina] Herrera (who has made the white shirt her style signature) recommends hand-washing with a splash of starch for a crisp finish. The white shirt, remember, is about contradictions – it may be easy, but it has good manners.” (Oh, yes!)
Well, I can’t say I was thinking about chemistry and laundering and manners when I purchased this white cotton shirting fabric from Britex a few years ago.
I just thought it was so lovely with its woven stripe and scalloped detail. I am happy to say it has been brought to fruition as a classic white blouse.
While the woven stripe IS lovely, it presented some definite considerations when I was laying out my pattern. For example, what reveal of the stripe did I want to show on the collar and cuffs. What about the back yoke? How should the buttons line up on the design on the center front? The following pictures detail my decisions as I worked through each component.
I chose to use the plain white band as the center portion of the cuffs.
I chose to position the stripe on the collar in the middle.
I decided to interface the yoke, as the cotton is lightweight, and the facing of the yoke would have shown through without it. I always use a woven, sew-in interfacing when I am making blouses. It works beautifully. I evenly balanced the placement of the stripe on the yoke, with just a slight plain reveal noticeable at the lower edge.
And then, what buttons should I use? It is so easy – and often appropriate – to choose a simple white pearl, two-hole button to accompany this style of shirt. I was prepared to do that until I came across this card of vintage buttons in my collection:
My first thought was, “How perfect! The incised stripes on the buttons mirror the stripe in the cotton. And, to seal the deal, they were also the perfect size, at 3/8”.
I used the same 1970s’ Simplicity pattern (with my many alterations to it) that I used for the two gingham blouses I made over the summer.
It is always satisfying to use a fabric which had been purchased – in the past, shall we say? It reinforces my thought that there is a time for all those lovely pieces of silk, wool, cotton and linen still waiting for their destination. Perhaps it really is about chemistry, after all.
Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons
Tagged as Britex Fabrics, Choosing buttons, fashion sewing, quotes about fashion, sewing, vintage ads for fabrics, Wall Street Journal Fashion coverage, white shirt