Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mrs. McW's Patterns

I accompanied my husband to several estate sales yesterday. This is a bit unusual. I find estate sales depressing. They are usually held when someone has passed on, or is moving into an assisted living facility and the family needs to liquidate the estate. I find myself studying the house, furnishings, clothing, and books, and thinking about the person they belonged to. This was their home, their cherished personal possessions, and I feel uncomfortable being part of a crowd of people examining and evaluating them for purchase. I went to the sales yesterday because I was up early, with makeup on, having dropped DS #2 off at football practice (yes, on a Saturday) and completed my grocery shopping.


The first two sales didn’t have much of interest. The third sale was at a home in Westover Hills, a neighborhood of unique, but small, brick and stone homes built in the 1920-40’s. The occupants had obviously loved antiques as evidenced by the furniture, clothes, pictures, and the accumulation of antique and doll magazines. And there in the corner of the musty basement, were several boxes of sewing patterns from the late 50’s through early 70’s. My heart started pounding as I started to sort through them. I purchased 50 of the about 70 patterns, paying $.30 per pattern. At home, looking through them at a more leisurely pace, I started to form an image of the person who collected and sewed these patterns. The first patterns were from the mid 1950’s. Spadea patterns that were marketed through a syndicated newspaper column entitled "You’re Sew Right". More info. about Spadea
All the envelopes are addressed to a Mrs. C.(husband’s name) McW at the address of the sale.The earliest postmark date was 1955. Gosh, she had lived in that hours over 5o years. In 1955, I imagined she might have been in her twenties, newly married, perhaps on a budget given that the patterns she purchased were modestly priced. She had probably learned to sew in school or from a relative. The patterns were for simple shirtwaist dresses, blouses, and jackets. From the same time period the patterns were mostly inexpensive non-designers Vogue patterns, and a few Simplicity and Butterick’s. These included both casual sportswear styles and dresses. My favorites include these dress patterns.

and a 1960’swimsuit designed to be made from denim or gingham with small darts in the bottom back to mold the fabric under the curve of the butt.


Starting in 1960 and through the early 70’s, all the patterns were Vogue Paris Original's or Vogue Couturier, some still had the woven labels in the pattern envelope. Many of them were purchased at Thalhimers or Miller & Rhodes, the elegant, rival, family run department stores that existed in Richmond from the 1800’s until the early 1990’s. Some of the patterns were stamped with the store name, and date of purchase, making dating the pattern easy. Either her finances had improved or her sewing skills and confidence were now at a level she felt comfortable tackling designer patterns. I would say 70% of the patterns had been used. The pattern pieces were trimmed, the dart lines were perforated by a tracing wheel, and they were neatly refolded when put back in the envelope. There were no signs that Mrs. McW made any pattern alterations. And she appears to have maintained her Bust 36, Hip 38 figure during the years for which there was patterns.This would have made her just slightly smaller ( 1 size) than me, though in all likelyhood a bit shorter. She even switched from a size 16 to a 14, staying with the same measurements, in 1968 when Vogue did some vanity resizing of their patterns.
On the back of some of the pattern envelopes, there were penciled calculations. They looked like yardage requirements multiplied by the cost of fabric in the 7 & 8 dollar range. Is this price level indicative that her fabric purchases were of high quality fabrics? I would like to think so. Mrs. C. McW certainly had a dressy, designer wardrobe in the 60’s. Where did she wear it? Did she work outside the home or did she have an active social life. The latter I suspect, based on the norm for women at that time. What did Mr. C. McW do for a living ? A Google search of his name did not return any info. He must have been successful, given where their home was, and the type of clothes his wife wore. I wish I could have seen her finished creations, touched her fabrics, talked to her about her love of sewing. Some more favorite patterns: This lovely draped Laroche.



This Pucci with a free hanging bodice.


A Pierre Cardin bias cut dress.

A Jacques Griffe dress styled to look like a vest and skirt, and jacket.

This Patou dress with matching cape.


Mrs. C. McW was obviously married and living in the house in 1955, based on the Spadea envelope labels. So the fantastic 1960’s ermine trimmed wedding dress pattern must have been purchased to make the dress for a non wedding event.
Were there any children? One, perhaps a girl for which she made this charming smocked dress in 1966. It was the only child’s pattern.


The last designer pattern was from 1973. After that the patterns were for Home Dec. items, Christmas ornaments, etc.. I didn’t buy them. If Mrs. C. McW was in her 20’s in the 50’s, she sewed gorgeous clothes through her 30’s and tapered off in her 40’s. There was no sewing machine or fabric included in the estate sale, supporting my hypothesis that she had not sewn for quite some time. I wonder why she stopped sewing? Did her lifestyle or body change? It happens. To see all of Mrs. McW's Patterns
My other purchase at the sale was this velvet, beaded, Victorian pincushion. It was so horribly over the top, and much too big (12" diameter) for my crowded sewing table. But it was red, my favorite color, and one of the beaded monograms is an "A". How could I resist?

23 comments:

Rose said...

What a great find! You now have so many great, "new" patterns!! If she is like most of us who sew, I'm sure she would be happy that the patterns went to someone who would use and appreciate them.

alethia said...

Oh my gosh! what a wonderful find.
I am glad Mrs C patterns landed in the hands of a sewist.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I went to several estate sales with a girlfriend one year and cried so hysterically after visiting the last house, that I decided then and there never to do it again. My girlfriend makes out like a bandit at these but all I could see was the life left behind either by death or by illness...and the pettiness of some of the relatives. It made me come home and write out exactly how I wanted my things to be disposed of...*sigh*

You did get some great patterns and ten to one the sewing machine and/or fabrics were either willed to a family member or scooped up by a family member. Every estate sale we went to that day (deliberately chosen because they said sewing items available) the sewing machines were gone unless they were really old or broken.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

Audrey - after seeing your flickr album of the vintage patterns just had to say "WOW!" You hit the motherlode! I'm actually glad that you were able to purchase these from the estate because now they will go to someone who will cherish them! You should definitely make some of these up...they look so you!

Gail said...

Lets hope that we all end up more than the sum of our possessions. The 60s Vogue patterns are amazing. I'm not big on 50s vintage.

Claudine said...

What a fantastic find! I'm surprised that the people running the sale did not recognize that the Vogue Couturier patterns are very valuable.

mjb said...

Thanks for sharing all of these! Some of them are so neat. I love thinking of the stories behind vintage and antique items, even if estate sales feel a little sad.

Linda said...

Wow! That was a treasure. I understand how you feel about estate sales.

Dana said...

Wow, those Vogue patterns are TDF!! I love the way you described your thoughts in this post, very touching.

Linda T said...

Oh how fun! Once in a great while you get lucky and find these wonderful treasures. Enjoy!

Vicki said...

What a great find! But so sad as well. i wonder why she stopped sewing? I too would loved to have seen into her world.

Trudy Callan said...

Oh, how fortunate you are. And, wow, what an awesome price for the patterns. They are all so lovely. I think I need to go to some estate sales.

Sharon said...

What wonderful patterns! I'm so glad you found them and gave them a new home where they'll continue to be loved and cherished. I also wonder about the lives of the people who used the patterns I find.

Sue said...

Wow - what a wonderful buy! It is lovly to feel connected to someone you have never met through her patterns!

Bunny said...

Loved looking at your patterns. You scored. That pin cushion sure is special.

j.kaori said...

What a wonderful post. It is intriguing to get a glimpse of another person's life and to think about the person behind the possessions. They are beautiful patterns.

KimP said...

This is a really cool post, Audrey. I love looking at the patterns - the 50s and early 60s are my favorite era for dresses, as I believe the fashions then did the most to flatter the female body. Thanks for this tour down Mrs. C McW's sewing history. She would probably be thrilled that we are getting such a kick out of her patterns - which she obviously treasured because she never got rid of them - they must have given her great memories of the dresses she sewed!

Maggie said...

What a great tribute to Mrs. McW. I understand completely how you feel. I always wonder about the original owner of every vintage paattern I buy. Who was she and where did she live? I just take comfort in knowing the patterns have found a good home and are being enjoyed once more.

Barbie Buns said...

I remember my mother using some of those same patterns and her amazement that the Paris designers that Jackie Kennedy wore were available to her to sew. Thank you so much for sharing.

Lisette M said...

What a wonderful find! I'm so jealous!

Trudy Callan said...

I left you an award on my blog.

denise@thebluegardenia.com said...

Thank you so much for sharing all these pictures. I so enjoyed looking at them all.

SewingDragon said...

I am new to the blog world and am going through all your older posts. This one in particular is so wonderful. What a lucky find for you, I would have been so thrilled. I agree with most of the other posts that you gave such a nice tribute to Mrs. McW. I would spend hours going through all those patterns and thinking of ways to apply them to today. Thanks for all the pictures!