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?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Instead of Sewing...

No sewing in the past two weeks. I thought Sunday there might be a chance, but DH suggested a day trip to Virginia Beach. I think he was trying to avoid the current task on his "Honey- Do" list - repointing the bricks of the front steps. I don't blame him. It was one of the first "cooler’ less humid days is several weeks. Gorgeous! I spent the 2 hour ride reading fashion magazines and planning fall sewing project. At our destination, on the beach, relaxing in my beach chair with my toes in the sand, I switched to Fundamentals of Fashion Design published recently in English by Bunka Publishing Bureau. The review is in the previous post. Reading about body size, shape, metrics, posture and aging issues and then to look up and have a large group of scantily clad bodies as real life examples really reinforced the reading, and made me resolve to pass on the boardwalk french fries. I looked up in the sky and admired the parasails being towed by motor boats just off shore. It looked like fun. Elder DS said he would do it with me, so I phoned in our reservations right then and there, before I could rethink my decision. Two hour later we were strapped into harnesses below a billowing sail, tethered at the end of 600 feet of nylon rope, being towed by a speeding motor boat. It was wonderful! It was very quiet up there and the view was spectacular. I highly recommend it. And just so you know, I am not a daredevil. I do not like standing on the edge of sheer drop-offs like the edge of the Grand Canyon and absolutely hate Ferris Wheel rides. This was totally different. The harness was not painful or uncomfortable and the landing and lift off is from a sitting position on the back deck of the boat. Here we are, just after being yanked off the back of the boat by the sail as the captain released the line.

I was not the oldest person on the boat doing this. There was a 60ish grandma that went up with her 10 year old grandson. His excitement and wonder at the experience had us all smiling. And I know exactly how he felt!

Review - Fundamentals of Garment Design

The Japanese company Bunka Publishing Bureau recently published a series of dressmaking books from the Bunka Fashion College in English. I found this out thanks to this Pattern Review Discussion I ordered the first book in the series, Fundamentals of Fashion Design, ISBN978-579-11238-8, from on a Friday and it arrived on the following Tue. Initially I wasn’t sure it was worth the purchase, as it appeared to contain basic info. that was covered in other books.

Chapter 1 - Overview if Fashion Design
Chapter 2 - Tools for Making Garments
Chapter 3 - Measuring the Body for Garment Production
Chapter 4 - Basics of Pattern Production
Chapter 5 - Garment Fabrics and Sewing Notions
Chapter 6 - Fundamentals of Cutting and Sewing

But Chapter 3 had some information I have never seen before about Human Body Proportions. How data is collected and used in designing pattern and flattering garments, even comparisons of body proportions for different races. And examples of a regularly proportioned body ( Japanese, but still interesting) in terms of the proportional relationship between width, thickness and height.
Then I got to page 88 and there it was, what I have been wanting since I first started using the Bunka published Japanese pattern magazines Mrs Stylebook and Lady Boutique. "Instruction for drafting the Bunka Sloper" …in English. Not only the bodice sloper, but the sleeve sloper and a section on Adjusting Various Parts for Larger Bust Measurements.

Reading the background information about the Bunka bodice sloper clarified the cause of some problems I had been having with my sloper. "The Bunka style bodice sloper is a way of making drawings based on a small number of measurements, the bust, back length and waist. The measurements of each part of the drawing sloper are mainly calculated with the bust measurement as a standard. Slopers produced in Japan accommodate mainly the standard body type of a Japanese adult woman 18-24 years of age (typically with bust measurement of 80 –89 cm)." Now I knew why my drafted sloper fit so poorly in some areas. It is drawn based on my larger 96 cm bust measurement, and my Anglo Saxon body proportions are not the same as a Japanese woman’s.
My drafted sloper fit fairly well, but the armhole area of the patterns drafted from it are consistently too big. Now I know this is because of the calculations used to determine the arm hole size and shape are based on my bust. Arm size does not necessarily increase in size in a linear relationship with the bust. I knew I needed to make fitting adjustments to the sloper, but it wasn’t clear to me how the sloper armhole should fit, especially in the underarm area. And there in the section on Fitting and Checking the Sloper was the answer. "The lower part of the armhole (the bust line) should be about 2 cm from the lowest edge of the underarm"

In conclusion: I would definitely recommend this book as an aid in drafting and fitting the Bunka ( Mrs Stylebook, Lady Boutique) multi darted sloper. As a stand-alone book on fundamentals of Fashion Design, I feel there are more comprehensive books already available.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vogue 1025 Metal and Moss

I had hoped to post about this dress before leaving for vacation the last week of July, but it didn't happen.

About the middle of the summer, when it becomes really hot and humid here in central VA, it is so much easier to throw on a lined sleeveless dress and sandals than mess with tops and bottom separates which I usually wear. Vogue 1025 has been in my "to sew" pattern pile for a while, since I saw Bloom's version. SewBlooms

This dress has "waistline" pleating that radiates out from a center point into the bodice and skirt. Waistline is in quotes because the horizontal seaming that joins the bodice and skirt is really located about 3 inches above the natural waist. This is not mentioned in the description on the back of the pattern envelope. It is clearly marked on the pattern pieces. Several reviewers ( at did not realize this and either made major alterations to lower the horizontal seam, or threw the dress away. A horizontal seam above the waist, where the body is smallest for many ladies, can be very flattering. Similar to an empire seam located just below the bust, it will emphasize the bust, while the skirt flows over potential problems areas like waist and hips. The fabric recommendations on the pattern all have the work "lightweight" in front of them. Using lightweight fabric for this dress is critical in forming the pleats and having them lay fairly flat to the body. The pleats all originate from a central point. There are a lot of layers of fabric to sew through at this point. Four pleats on the top plus the seam allowances from the center front seam and three on the bottom.

There is a lot of wearing ease in the pattern. Everywhere! I made it in a size smaller (14) than the size 16 I use for Vogue patterns. I always check the finished garment measurements printed on the pattern pieces and compare them to my own measurements and the amount of wearing ease I like in my clothing. The size 16 had way too much ease for me.

I made this dress in two different fabrics. Version 1 was to be a "little black dress". When I considered the fabric possibilities, I kept coming back to lightweight black foiled linen. "Foiled" was the description on the Jo Anne Fabrics sales slip, as in a thin layer of metallic foil applied to the surface of the fabric. A plain black linen is probably more wearable, but I wanted to see what the dress looked like in the foiled linen, and it was on sale. It is the same fabric that I used on the Badgley Mischa jacket and it was easy to work with. I love the metallic look, but I think it avoids the disco queen aura because of the dress style, and the linen fabric with its inherent texture and wrinkles. The belt is a vintage belt made of black elastic with a bronzy arrow head buckle design. With the fabric and belt I call the look "dusty warrior" as depicted in moves like Conan the Barbarian, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Apparel with lots of dull copper and bronze metals, leather, coarsely woven natural fabrics, and dust. This version is more a going out to dinner dress.

Version 2 was made of a light mossy green wool crepe from Hancock Fabrics. This fabric was very textured and surprising lightweight and ravelly. I used twill tape to stabilize the shoulder seams and waist seams. And fusible interfacing on the back seam where the zipper was inserted as well as the neckline edges and the sleeve edges.

Both dresses are lined with Bemberg rayon. On the pattern envelope, the dress is shown with a belt. I have a collection of belts, but most are from the 1980’s (sigh I don't know why I keep them), when they were big worn with pleated pants. I tried them on with my dresses. One positive was that belts that no longer fit at my waist did fit at the higher horizontal seam line of this dress. The negative was that the average belt does not work with this dress. After a lot of trying on, I came to the conclusion that the best belt for this dress was about 2" wide with a closure that serves as a focal point accessory. I have only one belt with a buckle/closure like this.
So I did some Internet shopping at Etsy and vintage jewelry sites for other belt buckles I could use for this dress. I found some really neat ones and most were priced under $10.00.

For the buckle at the top of the picture, I made a turned 1’ tube of distressed looking brown pleather (it took me an hour to turn the blasted thing), threaded 1” elastic through it and attached D rings at both ends. The D rings were needed because the buckle had two hooks underneath and it was the only way I could figure out how to attach it to a band. The elastic inside the band keeps it in place on the dress. Though the belt buckle looked fine with the dress, the 1" width band does not look as good as a wider 2" belt does. So someday, when I have a lot of time and patience, I will make a wider band to use with this buckle.

I am not sure what my next project will be. It's the classic late summer dilemma. Should I sew for summer or sew for fall??? My order of new Vogue fall patterns arrived last week, but the weather is still hot and humid and the stack of summer fabrics I had planned to make into clothes is still quite high.