Butterick 1915 Fashions (and thoughts on trying to KonMari myself out of being a hoarder).

I’ve officially started cleaning out my sewing room / having a full blown not-quite-midlife decluttering crisis and ebay-ing some of my old collected treasures. It’s funny the way my compulsions come full circle given enough time. About five years ago, I was interested in minimalism and simple living and trying to clear out my possessions to have time and space for what mattered most to me. Then I got interested in sewing ephemera and collecting sewing machines, and somehow my sewing room / sanctuary space became overrun with treasures.

Some of this is Asperger’s related, or to put it in non-identity-label terms, my learning style. When I become interested in something, it becomes obsessive, and I learn by immersing myself completely in the subject. I have enjoyed the process immensely, and pattern catalogs and sewing manuals and correspondence courses appeal to so many of my interests – visual art, graphic design, antiques, cultural history, gender history, material culture, crafting – that collecting them has engaged me as little else has.

But now, the cycle of my interests is shifting back to simplicity, and with a new baby and a desire to really move into patternmaking as an action and not just a study, I find that owning all of these delicate historical things is not providing me the same pleasure that hunting and studying it initially did. We don’t have enough room for me to store these things anymore, really. The sheer volume of kids toys we’ve accumulated with one kiddo who shares my hoarder tendencies is unbelievable, so with two, there’s just not room for boxes of books.

And what I want has changed. I want a crafting room or studio space that I can share with my kids without the worry that they might accidentally get ink on some antique irreplaceable thing that I paid a huge amount of money for. (Not to mention life in tornado alley makes a girl a bit nervous about all those 19th century leaflets upstairs when the sirens go off and we all pile in the basement.) I’d rather use the money from selling them to buy fabrics and art materials to engage with. So I’m finding new homes for some of the treasures I’ve accumulated over the years.

I keep reading Marie Kondo and hoping it will stick. There’s a passage in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I keep coming back to:

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

Most of the things I’ve collected have served their purpose in my life, in that they’ve provided an education and a great deal of inspiration. I scan and reproduce some of my favorites as a history nerd / design passion project, so have the ability to return to the information they contain. So I think I’m ready to clear out the physical bulk and work toward having space and materials to put what they’ve taught me to use in making new designs, doing my own sketches, writing about what I’ve learned about fashion history.

So, if you are a collector of fashion ephemera, feel free to watch my ebay (here). I have so many things to clear out over the next few months. I’ll try to post about some of the things I send back out into the world as I go through the process, because some of the designs and information in them is really fantastic.

I put up a Butterick catalog from 1915 this weekend that has some fantastic illustrations and unique details in it that I figured I’d share here, just as fashion inspiration. I love the influence of the kimono on this era (and have been very into researching kimono inspired garments lately) that started with Poiret a few years earlier but can still be seen in the girdles and sashes and surplice necklines.

 

Some of these designs and silhouettes seem very dated but even the dated designs have details that could be incorporated to give personality to contemporary designs or simple garments. Others, though, if they were done in contemporary colors and fabrics and with a modern hairstyle, you’d never know they were hundred year old designs. The dress with a deep neckline, a sash and the midsection, and the ruffle detail low on the sleeve and skirt would be gorgeous in a light chiffon outer layer and a satin sash in the same color for subtlety or a bright contrasting one for drama, something like cream chiffon with a scarlet sash and maybe some scarlet ribbon detailing at the neckline.

Fashion magazines always appeal to my inner 15 year old art nerd, too. The way these illustrations are done is both pretty and illustrative in a way some eras aren’t. Personally, I like this better than some of the line drawing qualities of illustration in the 1920s and the harsher femininity sometimes illustrated in the 1930s. It’s interesting, too, because these illustrations seem to depict female faces as they would look with heavy cosmetic applications, though women would probably still have tried to keep their makeup applications looking very natural at this point in history, using maybe just a face powder, light rouge, eyebrow pencil, and a tonic on lashes.

The shift of silhouette from the heavily corseted, tiny waistline of the first decade of the 1900s is fascinating. From what I understand this was probably partly due to the popularity of Titanic era designs by Poiret, Fortuny, and others that were inspired by other cultures with a more natural silhouette, but also due to necessity as World War I changed everyone’s lives so dramatically from 1914 onward, changing the daily activities of women, causing material shortages such that designs had to use less fabric, and so many other changes.

The corsets and undergarments really deserve an in-depth post of their own, so more on that later.

Happy Sunday!

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Bicyclists and Cersei and Oz, oh my!

Happy Saturday. A morning of bright, clear light here. Drinking coffee as the rest of the house wakes up.

As sewing goes, I’m happily sewing up little samples of lingerie for different sizes to test, learning about the legalities of garment tags, etc. I’m also mulling a jacket project, in part because Game of Thrones will be back on soon and I’ve wanted to make something power-dressing Cersei inspired since the last finale. And also because suffragette bicyclists in spats and bloomers and epic riding habit style suit jackets has hooked my interest.

 

Remember Miss Gulch from Wizard of Oz? Sure, she was a horrible wretch in the movie, but if Frank L. Baum was writing a story set in 1900, could she also have been a caricature of the New Women of the day? Game of Thrones and bicyclists may not seem to have much in common but in my mind they relate because a) I love cinematic representations of women that involve them not always being perfect and good and angelic but instead as creatures capable of the full range of complicated humanity and as straining in various ways against their prescribed societal roles and b) fitted bodices with high collars as activewear for the WIN. Structure wise Cersei’s ruling with an iron fist wardrobe is not so different from the traditional riding habit/”sportswear” of the 1800s. I’ve always found her wardrobe fascinating; even in her more feminine garb of earlier seasons there was often an element of armor; arguably for Cersei her femininity IS a kind of tactical wear. Cersei as a character is fantastic. We feel for her earlier struggles and can understand why her life made her what she now is, although we can’t condone it. We almost root for her strength and defiance when she is imprisoned and powerless and still threatening Septa Unella. But then she gets power, and she’s terrifying. She’s a complicated representation of human ambition who happens to be female. In 50 years I wonder what humanities scholars will have to say about that in relation to the Clinton campaign. Not that I’m equating Cersei and Clinton, but she’s the closest thing we’ve had to a female president, and the reactions to Clinton are so intense it’s kind of fascinating.  I think especially in her earlier days in the White House the world preferred her playing dutiful wifey and baking cookies and not hyphenating her name, and some of the casting of her as shrew figure by the right (then and now) seems loaded with gender symbolism. She’s got a different field of symbolism to navigate than a man, and, well, the rest is history.

But bicycles…the women circa 1900 seem to have been subjected to a lot of mockery and derision for their chosen mode of transportation. Some things I read talked about people looking at it as scandalous because of the physical exertion, the physicality and the fact that (oh lordy) women were sitting on a seat in such a way, that it meant more outings with the opposite sex. And given the eternal strain of youthful generations against the prohibitions of the old, it must have had some subtly sexy, defiant undercurrents that resonated with some subset of the population because there are some great advertisements of women riding bicycles floating around the interwebz. (There are also a large number of topless Grecian goddess type bicycle women?) Here are some from the era that interest me at the moment:

 

And there are a few surviving garments in exhibitions that have me drooling:

 

So I’ll have to play around and see what kind of GoT watching garb I can come up with. 🙂

 

(Photos are all from Pinterest searches of things like “Victorian bloomer bicycle” etc. Most are uncited. Some of the great extant garments are originally from The Met exhibitions, and some of the advertising is originally from the French Gallica website.)

Tulle Bra, and some 1884 inspirations.

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My bra making is improving, though I still have struggle with some of the finishing details like strap attachment and aligning my channeling just right.

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This is my first attempt to make anything with bra tulle, which I ordered from TailorMadeShoppe on etsy. I was surprised by how easy it was to work with, especially compared to ravelling satin and the constantly stretching and shifting milliskin I used for the band. So much of bra making seems to be about the right materials! I had never tried using bra weight picot elastic in the band but it makes quite a difference in giving feeling of sturdy, good fit, and it looks more properly polished than I could ever make it look with fold over elastic. The cup is two layers–a sturdy inner layer of bra tulle, which has no stretch, and an outer cover I decided to add on a whim of stretchy dot lace draped over and darted to fit the under layer. Next time, I won’t bother with the fussiness of draping and pinning; I’ll just use my pattern to draft a solid, single dart cup outer layer instead.

This has been one of my most satisfying projects yet. The pattern is my own draft, which has gone through so many changes and fit adjustments and trials and tribulations over the last few months it’s unbelievable, but I *finally* have a pattern that works for me and a finished bra that fits perfectly. I can’t believe how comfortable an underwired bra can be. It only has taken me about 4 months, three craftsy classes, and a ton of money on supplies and hundreds of hours of my life to accomplish. HA. But never having to waste money in/try a bra on in a lingerie store=priceless.

The pages beneath are from a few issues of La Mode Illustree from 1884. There is no connection whatsoever between the items except a vague notion in my mind of how femininity is universal across the decades. We all like a bit of luxurious prettiness here and there, especially in the 1880s! I thought I’d share some of the inspiration photos I’ve snapped for a future project:

 

This illustration is my favorite, because it shows a woman’s hair let down, which seems rare for any era earlier than the 60s or 70s of this century, and it’s such an intimate feeling for a fashion illustration:

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Rabbit Hole of the Day: WTF is a Fichu?

I watch a LOT of period dramas. (Aptly named, quoth the partner. Har har.) And I read a lot of old timey sewing materials, so I know I’ve seen a fichu collar, and I have seen it referenced in pattern books, but ask me what it actually IS and/or how to make it and I don’t really know. So…wikipedia says:

A fichu is a large, square kerchief worn by women to fill in the low neckline of a bodice. It originated in the United Kingdom in the 18th century and remained popular there and in France through the 19th with many variations,[1] as well as in the United States.[2] The fichu was generally of linen fabric and was folded diagonally into a triangle and tied, pinned, or tucked into the bodice in front.

I’ve seen it in books from the 1800s, and especially like this example from Godey’s (source):

GodeysNov1862

Here are some gorgeous examples from 1780s era paintings by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, whose story is fascinating in its own right–I had never heard of her before researching fichus, but she was a talented painter who defied convention by learning painting at all in a mentoring system that typically denied access to women and went on to earn a living as a professional painter and teacher of her craft, painted royalty, and even divorced and remarried in the 17oos! (source for paintings; source of biographical info)

 

Some more pretty pictures of unknown origin:

 

And here are some examples from museum collections (all from The Met, I believe, via pinterest and here):

So how might one sew up one of these pieces of lacy frilly uber feminine indulgences? Like so (from Peterson’s Magazine, found on this treasure trove of historical pattern inspiration here):

fichu petersons magazine june 1877

Or like this, from an unknown source but originally viewed (here):

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Tea In a Teacup has a great, in depth post on different varieties of fichus and how one might construct and embroider the different shapes (here). She created the following diagram, which is a great starting place for sewing up a few of my own to slip under vests or into necklines that scoop a bit lower than I’d like (what can I say, I’m a prude about my decollete):

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Also cool to see was the ways this historical article comes back from time to time in fashion cycles, as does everything, it seems. (Except maybe the monokini.) For sewing inspiration and some styling and interpretation ideas, here are way too many images of fichus, fichu collars and fichu-esque drapery, mostly from Etsy, Pinterest, Ebay and the Vintage Pattern Wikia. The vast majority of actual fashion pieces are from Dior in the 50s/modern day:

Hour count for 10k hours project: 298

Oh, You Pretty Things: Poiret and the 1910s-20s

Sometimes I have to drown out the ugliness of the world with the beauty of human nature and human works. So this week there have been a lot of kitten videos, avoiding of facebook and beauty for its own sake. Just thought I’d share some of my current happy micro-obsession with Poiret, the art deco fashion illustration of the 20s, and the multiculturally inspired, out-with-the-corset elegance of the 10s. Many of these are Poiret designs, and many are Barbier illustrations.

Free Sewing Inspiration: ABC of Dress by Harry Collins

Oh internet. Daily you force me to confront the best and the worst in humanity. *waits for pizza ordered online thus avoiding the dread and horror of talking to real humans on the phone* Is there a special circle of hell for people who claim to be book lovers and knowledge preservers who just sit back and profit off of some poor publicly funded librarian’s scanning efforts? I would like to think so. (I noticed this book, and many others, from archive.org listed on Etsy, being sold as someone’s own work. The listing *did* make me sit up and take notice of the book’s content, which is a plus, but also depresses/frustrates/enrages me bc there are sellers who just take others’ work and sell it as their own.)

But where was I? OH YES. Art deco 1920s excellence that I wouldn’t have ever found had I not been snarkresearching on this Etsy seller’s stock. This book by Harry Collins called the ABC of Dress is part dressing guide, part dressmaking guide and the illustrations are gorgeous:

Wanna download it? A variety of formats available (here) free of charge, thanks to the indefatigable wonderful folks at archive.org.

Things I Hoard: Modes & Travaux

If memory serves me, this French language publication began in the 1920s or slightly earlier, and is still in publication. It features fashion, knitting and embroidery, and many of the ones I have from the 30s still have an included iron on transfer sheet with embroidery designs. As part of my learning curve with digitization methods, I’ve been playing around with one from the 1930s with some gorgeous designs by Maggy-Rouff, Molyneux and Lelong in it. It’s gorgeous, as most illustrated fashion magazines of the era seem to be. (I think I like illustration better than photography in my fashion mags, even though the illustrations definitely seduce me into sewing things that aren’t going to flatter my body but look great in theory on a drawn person whose waist is roughly 12″ around and who stands at least 7′ tall.)

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Another thing I love about these old publications is the window they provide into the day to day life of their era. We tend to think of the past as if it were so different, but all the advertising in these speaks to the same things we worry about today–wrinkles, our weight, our hair color, that ever elusive glamor we want for ourselves. Unlike some of my friends who tend to think that technology is revolutionizing our consciousness, etc etc, I tend to think that the human heart stays mostly the same. We all worry about the same things, we all need the same intangible things from each other, whether it’s 1700 or 2015. But outside of the context of one’s era, certain things do seem bizarre…like whatever this beauty treatment ad is offering (if radio-actifs means what I think it does, omg, way to redefine youthful glow):

You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.
You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.

Another thing I can’t get enough of is old lingerie advertisements and design.

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So pretty! So I managed to digitize it all and have it not be distorted, overly blurry or overly contrasted–if you’d like the entire pdf, I’m making it available for free download for a day or two 🙂 enjoy!

modes travaux – 1932 nov 1

Free Sewing Inspiration: Simplicity Preview, April 1958

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This image just begs for creative captioning.

I’ve been scanning and hoarding, scanning and hoarding lately, revelling in old paper and list-making. Bookworm heaven. Learning new software, working on a real live sewist/compulsive archivist type site design. Even brushing up on my sad, sad French skills because I want to work on some translations of old French pattern drafting books. (Can you tell I’m desperate for brainwork post-college? I was in school so long I can’t function without the structure and the immersion in a subject; sewing history is seriously keeping me from losing my mind as suburban middle age overtakes me.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a free PDF I made of a vintage pattern mini-catalog. It’s too fragile for much handling so it was a good candidate for scanning practice. 🙂 It’s a fun little piece of Audrey-Hepburn-in-her-heyday inspiration, particularly appropriate since I’m mourning the fact that Mad Men wrapped up. I haven’t seen any of the final season yet–I’m trying to dodge spoilers till Netflix puts up the final season and I can lose three days to drooling over Jon Hamm and Janie Bryant’s costume work as fully as they deserve.

(click here to download the pdf)

Enjoy!

Woman’s Institute Sewing Books Editions and More Vintage Library: Designing by Draping, 1936

I feel this maniacal compulsion to make myself expert on all things Woman’s Institute. To shout its wonders to the world. To missionize. Because holy freakin crap do I love these books. And today, discovering minor differences between editions, I was positively mad with book lust. (See: The 9th Gate. It’s what my life would be if I were glamorous, rich, important and in accidental league/sex thrall with the devil. So not like my life at all except for salivating over old books and caressing them lovingly, creepily, way too much for normal people to find comfortable.) There’s a scene where Johnny Depp starts examining illustrations for tiny differences all wide eyed behind his big glasses–that is me, today.

9thgate

The most fascinating example of this was the lingerie and underwear instruction books and booklets. I have three different versions–a two part paperback booklet set, and two hardback volumes printed in Britain. I assumed they’d have the same content, but it turns out they are all different! One features Edwardian type lingerie (corset covers, brassieres, knickers), one of the undated booklets features 20s era lingerie, and the final one contains 1930s more contemporary styles. It’s a fascinating transformation and I find it so interesting that around the era of suffrage, the silhouette was loose, unrestricted and free.

At least one other book has multiple versions with completely different designs–“Draping and Designing with Scissors and Cloth” (1920s version, later renamed “Designing by Draping”), “Designing by Draping” (1928) and Designing by Draping” (1936). This one is extremely rare, though reproductions are available. (Which I refuse, utterly, to buy. I know that the sellers of these are probably just hoarders like myself trying to fund their addictions, which I respect, but I require a facsimile reproduction or nothing. My compulsions demand the satisfaction of vintage page design, typeface, the exquisite yellowing of pages. And if the cover features any kind of crappily rendered, computer-drafting looking piece of crap line drawing for a book FULL of exquisite period illustrations then, um, NO.) And the Woman’s Institute books are all exquisitely designed–except, it seems, the 1936 version, which is available in PDF, for free, courtesy of the lacouturieredimanche blog (here). The illustrations have a different feel, and the text is typewritten…??? The book is genuinely a production of the Woman’s Institute, as the logo/name printing on the cover looks right, and the subject matter and instruction is definitely their kind of book, but maybe it was a very limited run not meant for wide dissemination or it was produced during the era when they were winding down their correspondence lessons. Not sure. But it’s fascinating. (Did I mention the designs are frickin’ amazing? This is my favorite era to date–the collision of art deco and the coming 40s power suit trend. Love love love.)

designingbydraping1 designingbydraping2 designingbydraping3 designingbydraping4So where was I? Oh, yes. I want to devote vast amounts of time, energy and money toward becoming an expert about something that no one else but me is really that interested in. So kind of like being a philosophy major all over again. Except more people seem to care about vintage sewing and if I want to sew for customers I could, maybe, perhaps, make a decent living at it without suicidiality and/or having to confront daily the silences of the vast empty spaces. Even writing, which I also wasted years of my life and thousands of dollars in formal education for, isn’t a pleasureable existence for me, mining one’s own psyche for arbitrary meaning and all that. My happiness moments have been working with my hands at a craft, baking pies at 7am in a restaurant, staining houses in the middle of the woods, etc. There is such a pleasure in craft work–tangible, puzzle like problems and cultivating a specific skill set seeking mastery even though you know you will never fully get it. (If you’ve never seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Netflix that shit STAT.) *lost in swoony reverie*

My hoard of books is amassing at a ridiculous rate. I’ve happily sort of stalled on amassing sewing machines, though my recent trip to the backwoods of cell-service-black-hole-of-despair Missouri to take Ray White’s AMAZING sewing machine repair course has me dangerously close to backsliding on that. Over the course of his class, somehow I went from being a girl with a hobby to a girl with a dream of her own sewing machine/historical fashions business. That’s some heavy shit, that is.

So for now I’ll have to wait (the old day job beckons) to scribble some annotated bibliographies, which is sort of one of the greatest pleasures of human existence. And to sit waiting by my front door eagerly awaiting the arrival of the mailman (who knows me and my obsessions so well that he actually gave me an old Kenmore–thank god he’s a patient sweetheart, because a lesser person might resent all the things he has had to lug to my house. When I joked about being a hoarder, I think he believed me.) ALSO: in bouncy bouncy news, I just won what looks to be the abbreviated version (shorter books) of the 12 vol. Isabel Conover dressmaking set circa 1921! More on that very soon!

Vintage Library: Designing Women by Margeretta Byers

Another vintage find too cool to keep to myself. This book is subtitled “The Art, Technique and Cost of Being Beautiful” and is from 1938. And is available, for free, from archive.org (here).

“Today clever women build wardrobes as carefully as architects build skyscrapers.” This is more of a style guide than a sewing guide, and some of the advice is (obviously) very period specific, and the value of hard and fast rules about what to wear is questionable, but it is thorough and has tons of things that I hadn’t thought of. How to hide my big feet?! Um, yes please! It also breaks down styles in an interesting way (exotic, gamine, patrician, romantic, coquette, sophisticate) and gives examples. Turns out my style preferences are gamine + sophisticate, which was fun to find articulated in this way. My colors and styling preferences are even outlined, much to my surprise, very accurately in these descriptions! This has info on designers of the era, too. And the ever important, ever difficult trick of balancing all of these style and fashion tricks with the day to day reality of (dum dum DUM) the budget. Lots of pages devoting to budgeting here. It’s kind of like Style Statement with all the hippie frou frou self-helpiness drained out of it replaced with budget sense and practicality. I’m definitely enjoying the read!

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