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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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.

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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!

Iconography: Lauren Bacall “The Look” Exhibition at FIT

The museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology is doing a swoon worthy exhibition of Lauren Bacall’s personal collection of pieces. She donated over 700 pieces to them over the years, and this is a selection that is guaranteed to induce salivation. My personal favorites:

Lauren_Bacall_68.143.6_20101013_01_450This glorious Norman Norell piece, designed with subway travel in mind. Cool and casual on the outside to get you where you’re going without drawing attention, with the vavavoom sequins and shimmer sheath dress beneath. I love the champagne color. Also a big fan of the era’s tendency to match jacket linings to the main garment.

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And this 1968 Christian Dior silk jersey and ostrich feather piece of evening dress wonderment. Could I pull this off? Incredibly doubtful. Could I sew on ostrich feathers? Also incredibly doubtful. But faux fur sleeve accents to add that Scarlett O’Hara flair to a otherwise minimalistic black top? Now that’s within reach. Gotta work on my resting bitch face, though.

There is a digital version of the exhibit on FIT’s website (here)¬†with tons of information and photos. Amazing, of course, I wish there was a bit more on her menswear pieces and earlier style, but that’s just my unfaltering love of the power suit speaking.