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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Vintage Sewing Library: W. D. F. Vincent on Shirtmaking; early 1900s shirt miscellany

 

I’m having a mini-obsession at the moment, trying to learn to make a proper shirt. The boyfriend is in dire need of some new ones, so, armed with a Craftsy course by David Page Coffin on shirtmaking details, this book from late 1890s-early 1900s? by the W. D. F. Vincent, prolific editor of Tailor and Cutter, and a heavy dose of Boardwalk Empire = weekend filled!

Parenthetically, I should say that really, really love the David Page Coffin Craftsy courses. He has an interesting way of approaching his areas of interest, which I find relatable with my usual pattern of get obsessively interested + read a bajillion things tangentially related to subject –> try to synthesize firehose of information in way that makes sense and breaks subject down into components. Of course, I think my process is complicated by attention deficit/distractability issues (which is why I sewed a pair of pants and a cut-on Mandarin collar kimono experiment blouse a whim this week, instead of, oh, say, a SHIRT). But I really enjoy his way of breaking down the problem of shirt or trouser making into a core pattern and interchangeable detail elements, rather than being another dressmaking sew along this is how you do it from start to finish kind of course. This course doesn’t really cover how to construct or draft the bare bones shirt pattern itself, but that’s where the W. D. F. Vincent comes in.

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Detachable collars are familiar enough to me from Peaky Blinders and the mini-obsession with them I had while binge-watching that show, but I wasn’t fully aware that the shirt fronts (or “detachable shirt bosoms”) were also detachable. Apparently these were made in detachable and even disposable form:

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Apparently they were made in cardboard, paper and other materials for kinds of work like waiting tables, where it was easier to just trash the false front rather than launder one.

Then I vaguely remembered seeing the Bugs Bunny opera skit and suddenly the world became comprehensible:

When the singer’s layers start to unfurl, you see his detachable collar come off, his shirt front roll up, his suspenders holding everything in place. Apparently these detachable shirt fronts were typically held in place with buttons to the trouser front. Thank you, google patents! Also, fun fact, apparently they didn’t incorporate this into the elaborate, very accurate costuming for Downton Abbey and you can sometimes see these formal fronts bunching up on the actors where they would not have if buttoned properly. (citing my source) Apparently shirts of the era would have had a button there, where loops like this could fasten:

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Patents reveal a variety of fronts and fastening configurations (I have a patent fetish, not gonna lie):

 

And the cherry on top–did I mention detachable collars in the Vincent book? Because this is sewing porn right here.

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I think that’s about all the overcaffeinated tangents I’ve got. Happy weekend!

Free Vintage Sewing Library: Etsy Seller of Shame Edition

Brace yourself, the snarkiness is coming. As well as links to free stuff, for spite and because they’re amazing.

Soooo…I’ve been very into tailoring research lately. Cruising the web at all hours of the night for some sweet, sleek menswear resources. And I’ve found quite a few great ones on archive.org…that I see AGAIN on etsy.com marketed as the sellers’ own work. As I’ve said before and will say again, I think this is a horrible thing to do. I generally hesitate to call anyone out on this stuff because I’d hate to be wrong. BUT. Antique books are an extremely expensive hobby. I know this firsthand, because there are so, so many things I drool over and cannot afford even if I can find them. And it is virtually impossible to find enough old tailoring materials to compile a very large collection, even if I wanted to spend huge amounts of money on it. So when I see an etsy seller like HowToBooks who deals exclusively in collector’s item/antique books that are listed in ways that bury the actual title/author deep in the description (if they are stated at all) AND who sells items I have found on archive.org–seriously 95% of this seller’s dressmaking/tailoring content is listed there–I know they’re a jerk who’s just taken free materials to sell as their own. Let me elaborate:

“Design Your Own Clothes Mens TAILORING and TUXEDO PATTERNS Formal Wear Tailored Suits” by HowToBooks is actually the 1907 edition of Croonborg’s Grand Edition of Supreme System of Cutting Men’s Garments. Available completely free, here, courtesy of the good folks (likely librarians and interns who spend hours slaving over a scanner) at archive.org.

“Men’s Tailoring the Red Book for Men’s Tailoring 1917” is another Croonborg text–actually called New Supreme System for the Cutting of Men’s Garments. I know for an absolute fact this seller stole this one off of archive.org, because they include a picture of the table of contents that contains a pencil mark that is the EXACT same on the free version of the archive.org pdf available, for free, here.

This seller has a lot of great things listed in their shop. Don’t pay for them. They’re probably all available for free.

There is another etsy seller named BuriedTreasureChest that I found during my search for tailoring references that does the same shady stuff. This jerkface also sells the Red Book of Men’s Tailoring–the same Croonberg text, with the SAME PENCIL MARKINGS on the table of contents. No joke.

They also sell “Victorian Costumes Patterns Book” which is really The Diamond Garment Cutter from 1895. I know they stole it from archive.org because on the page featured on their listing, there is a penciled in “137” that is also visible on…you guessed it…the archive.org version, available free of charge in all its glory here.

This bothers me because libraries are my spiritual homeland (and that smell=heaven)  and also because I know what it’s like to spend 10 hours scanning and editing a book because you’re a design/typography/arts and crafts junkie who truly loves these books and wants to partially fund the obsession. As a matter of principle it really, REALLY bothers me when people profit off of the work of others as these sellers are doing. It also bothers me when people don’t cite their sources. It might be petty of me, but HowToBooks has about 4500 sales at current count–if each one of those is $4, then some jerkface has made about 16k, give or take, off of stolen books. Screw them. Screw them so much.

Whew. Sorry, it’s been a stressful work week.

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On a happier note, I’ve been hand sewing and it is the best kind of Zen medicine. At least, now that I learned to condition the thread with beeswax. I’ve been working on a wearable muslin of a vest to get a better bodice sloper. It’s actually going very well, and only needs buttonholes now. I also finished my wearable muslin / first attempt at sewing with chiffon. It’s a simple tunic type shirt with set in sleeves and a high scarf collar that ties in front, and gathered sleeves with tie closures. It fits and it has that romantic-young-man-in-a-Jane-Austen-romance look that I like so much. So that’s encouraging.

 

Vintage Sewing Library: Medieval Embroidery Inspirations

This is the rabbit hole I’ve been down today. Medieval blackwork embroidery:

All of the above examples are from medieval portraiture except for the photograph, which is from (here).  There is a gorgeous reproduction of the cuff above, which is from Holbein’s portrait of Jane Seymour during the Tudor era. This version was done by Alexandra Gray (more info here).

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I’ve found a few great sources for this on archive.org–one is a book from 1532 from Alessandro Peganino, because when I go vintage, I go VINTAGE. Here are some of the illustrations it includes:

The original book is available for free (here). I’m hoping to incorporate some of these designs as trimming details on some of my 1920s tunic attempts!

Weekend Project: Treadle Tune Up!

I have crafter ADD.

I am still working on the perfectly fitted yet moveable bodice/sleeve–I’m on attempt #6 in the last three weeks, I believe, and have used up all of my muslin hoard in various attempts, but will be launching into the next iteration tomorrow. I let myself do one attempt every 2-3 days lest the frustration reach throw-a-sewing-machine point. I think I’ve almost got it, though 🙂

As a respite from said frustration, and because I always visit my grandparents on the weekend, and because my grandparents aid and abet my showing machine addiction by sending me sewing machine porn pictures during their flea market outings AND allowing me to stash my overflow in their basement, I decided to finish rebelting my Singer treadle! Months ago, my grandpa and I went on an hours-long drive to pick up this Craigslist find in a very cantankerous ex-hippy older man’s basement. He became much friendlier when I made it obvious I was not out to haggle and did not want to dismantle the machine and sell it as a foo-foo shabby chic table. Nothing against shabby chic, but seeing whitewashed cast iron hurts my little bitter heart. Apparently his too. He said he had bought it decades ago and an ex girlfriend used to sew on it during the 70s, but he had never gotten around to refinishing it as he’d hoped. It was dusty and had some staining and damage to the wood surface, and the machine is varnished and the decals have some serious wear. But that’s part of its appeal. There’s an aesthetic ideal called wabi sabi in Japan that I think of with old machines and antiques–beauty in imperfection, beauty in the natural cycle of decay with time, wear from use. I’ll spare you that rant, mostly, but it’s a fascinating subject. For example:

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So anyway, my treadle. It needed a belt, and a TON of oil, and some serious scrubbing and loosening of varnished parts. Replacing a treadle belt isn’t hard, exactly–you just buy a precut length of leather belting, or measure it with a string over its path through all the turns of the flywheel and balance wheel, and then you trim it to the point that it’s got enough tension against the wheels to turn the machine, but not too tight. According to the interwebz, a slightly loose belt works better, and some people even recommend violin bow rosin to help with the grip. (This and much more wisdom on treadle tips and tricks here.) It took some fiddling to get the length just right, and my grandpa used a very small drill bit to drill a hole on either end of the belt. The edges need to be trimmed so that the two ends of the belt butt up to one another, and then you crimp the staple that usually comes with the belting shut securely by squishing it just right with a pair of pliers. Grandpa has mad skills in this department. Tricky but nothing compared to the storm of swear words that I unleash on a vintage Husqvarna. I love the simplicity of these old machines so much. There is a very Zen pleasure that comes from playing around with them–and in the treadling action itself. It takes some getting used to, since the wheel will move in either direction when you initially start to pedal and it will break your thread if it moves away from you (for a Singer treadle–White and some other models move the opposite direction, though). But using a slight turn of the handwheel with my right hand to convince it to move the right direction really helps. So does using my hand to bring the wheel to a complete stop. I’m sure it gets easier with time and practice.

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All cleaned up, cast iron cleaned with a rag and sewing machine oil, etc.

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Sphinx decals. So cool! Evidently the discovery of King Tut’s tomb led to Egyptomania in fashion during the 20s.

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My grandpa shared a big chunk of the mancave for my machinery. I think he enjoys it, too.  The treadle to the right is table only, and was a gift from some friends who wanted it to go to a nice new obsessive’s home. It was missing the front drawer and the wooden pitman rod connecting the flywheel on the base to the treadle pedal part had been broken. So after months of scouring online, I found replacements for both. Evidently the pitman rods were made in metal as well as wood–I wish there were a contemporary source for these, although I suspect someone with woodworking skills would have no problem making a new wooden one. Alas, I do not.  My grandpa repainted the legs as he remembers them from his childhood. He did a wonderful job on them!

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The woman who it originally belonged to apparently loved that distinctive 70s green that the drawers are painted in. I don’t, and I hope to use some Citristrip one day to remove it. My partner jokes that one day I’m going to get us haunted by messing with the wrong antique. Let’s hope it’s not by refurbishing this one.

And also…I’ve been working on the pattern for this!

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It’s from a fashion magazine during the 1880s that came with a huge pattern insert. The pattern pieces are all printed on top of one another, so I have my work cut out for me. It’s quite a tangle. But–once I get my sloper perfected; fingers crossed for try #6–I’m looking forward to attempting it!

Anyone else have any treadle experiences? I’d love to hear about them!

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.

Vintage Sewing Library: Free Isabel Conover Books Online

Old sewing books are a weakness for me; when the original is not available or is too expensive, I can usually content myself with an ebook. When this ebook is sold by a seller who scanned the material him/herself, I am perfectly okay with paying them their asking price for the time and effort put into digitizing the info. I also sympathize with their obsessive, hoardy nature and their love of the vintage; we are probably similar creatures. But I am decidedly NOT okay with shifty, shitty booksellers who find material on sites that offer it for free (University of Wisconsin has a great archive, archive.org, etc) and then present it as their own “item they have seen value in and brought back for our customers.” What really, really pisses me off is when I spend $8 on an ebook of a super rare book from a bookseller overseas which turns out to be taken from the University of Wisconsin site. So I could have downloaded it for free, but instead I paid someone $8 to be a shady shit. The seller even offered me a discounted rate, still upward of $40, to buy a hard copy reprint of the same book. Jerks.

So today I find myself hunting for Isabel Conover books and see that the same shady shit bookseller is offering ebook versions of her stuff (let’s just say they’re based in Delhi, India). So I KNOW it’s on the internet somewhere, because said shady bookseller isn’t actually going to bother with scanning something themselves to offer valuable information back to the world, they’re just going to steal someone else’s contribution to humanity. GAH.

So because screw them here are all the links I have found while looking for Isabel Conover materials. She had a dressmaking course in two versions (a longer, 12 volume, 1200+ page version which I did not win a heated bidding war for on ebay, and an abbreviated multivolume version) and a Dressmaking Made Easy book out during the 1910s-20s, so the designs are very lovely Edwardian and art deco designs. Which I’ve been crazy about in the last few weeks. (My sewing obsessions flit wildly from decade to decade as I get a broader sense of my own style, the lines I like, the detailing that appeals to me, what flatters and what does not. See: HBO’s Mildred Pierce as case study in what to sew and what not to sew. Kate Winslet’s costuming=vintage but dowdy and unflattering, as befitting her character. Rachel Evan Wood=sizzling, flattering vintage that makes me want to lose 10lbs and wear a epic shit ton of satin. More on this later, I’m sure, as that movie has me in a style swoon marveling at the perfect clothes of one of the coldest women I’ve ever seen on film.) Anyway, links:

Archive.org has one volume (Lesson 12) (Men’s Clothes and Index) of the complete dressmaking course available for free (here).

Antique Pattern Library (a fabulous free resource for lots of arts and crafts; I love their calligraphy books too) has six volumes of the abbreviated booklet version:

Lesson 1: Introduction (here)

Lesson 2: How to Make Aprons and House Dresses (here)

Lesson 3: How to Make Underwear (here)

Lesson 4: How to Make Infants Clothes (here)

Lesson 5: How to Make Blouses (here)

Lesson 11: How to Make Coats (here)

Archive.org also has her entire 160pg book, Dressmaking Made Easy, available (here) for free.  Incidentally, it was part of a “Made Easy” series which also included Entertaining, Dancing, Etiquette, Grammar, Spelling, and Tricks and Magic Made Easy, all available on the archive.org site for anyone interested in the cultural atmosphere of the era. 🙂

Happy reading!

Sewing Project: Refashioning Old Clothes + Dickeys in 30s Style

So many projects, so little time. Among a bajillion other things, I’m currently working on a wardrobe refashion project. I’ve been really, really into wartime sewing pamphlets and cotton bag sewing materials that give tips on how to reuse fabric and refashion clothes that you already have into something new. During WW2 especially war rationing resulted in some ingenuity in reusing old materials.  It has me digging through my old bags of clothes I’ve been meaning to discard with a new pair of eyes! So many things that I don’t like because they don’t quite fit can be deassembled and used in ways I had never though of before. Some of my many sewing failure projects can be reused too.

There are lots of ways to do this–patterns with yokes, with top pieces and bottom pieces that join, special sleeves, kimono type sleeves, etc.makedomend image by BeautyArmy

And my current personal favorite–the bodice with a deep neckline + a dickey beneath. What is a dickey, you ask? It’s a common vintage clothing article worn beneath shirts and suitjackets to add variety, or to dress lightly underneath an outer layer. It’s a kind of partial blouse without sides or sleeves that sometimes has ties at the sides to hold it in position. Here are some pattern examples:

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Advance 3247

dickeys2I love it for the potential variety this could add to a wardrobe. One shirt + an infinitely variable number of necklines. It also gives me a low risk way to indulge in and wear some of the nicer fabrics from my stash. Here’s what I’m planning on playing with over the next few days:

DSC_5291Two kinds of gorgeous red chiffon, some dot lace and some stretch satin. Normally I would be too afraid of wasting them, but since a dickey requires so little fabric and is cursed with far fewer fitting issues than a full blouse, results are likely to be pretty good.

I have two pieces of clothing to rework–both are velvet, semi fitted, and not at all my current style. One is an old button up basic blouse with no darts or embellishments. The other is a burgundy pair of pants which are a bit too clingy for me, and which I wore so much in my teen years when grunge was the thing and we all walked on our pants legs that the bottom 4″ of the pants leg is not pretty. The shirt will be remade as a deep v-neck (cutting out a new neckline, binding the raw edge with wide bias strips of a similar color broadcloth) long sleeved blouse, but the pants I will be completely disassembling and trying to remake as a more bustier-like fitted blouse or Edwardian style corset cover shaped blouse. The end goal is to be able to wear them with dickeys sort of  like this contemporary interpretion of 30s fashion:

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Vintage Sewing Book Addiction: Constance Talbot and Mary Brooks Pickens

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(image from Etsy shop BookBW)

My hoarding continues. I’m currently fiending on the old Domestic Arts and Sciences Institute books and found a few for decent prices on Ebay. I also discovered Constance Talbot’s The Complete Book of Sewing which, fortunately for us, was reprinted frequently and is relatively readily available on Amazon and used book sites for really low prices. It’s also available (here on archive.org) to borrow. You have to create an account but it takes all of three seconds and involves no spamming whatsoever.

Archive.org is a treasure trove. The Secrets of Distinctive Dress by Mary Brooks Pickens? They have it. For download. For FREE. (Pdf version here.) It’s part of the Domestic Arts series I’m trying to collect, and it’s a 280ish page gem of style advice and cosmetic tips from the period (1918). It’s like doing anthropology on your own culture. Bonus artifacts: the archive also has the Institute’s volumes on cookery, in case you want to cook a meal to match your period dress. Extra points for doing so on an open hearth. (Click here for the page links for all five volumes.)