Category Archives: Looking Back

Top from Vintage Simplicity Dress Pattern 8183

It was the summer of 1969.  Young and old came together and watched in awe as American astronauts succeeded in landing on the moon.  It was also the summer of  the Woodstock music festival in New York and of two nights of shocking murders in California which were later found out to be committed by the Manson Family.

In my world, I was in elementary school with the summer off.  I was listening to “In the Year 2525″ by Zager and Evans, ” Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies and Donovan’s “Atlantis” on my transistor radio.  My library’s reading program for kids was titled “books are out of this world” and my reading consisted of books like “The Happy Hollisters” and the Beany Malone series.

The jiffy pattern, Simplicity 8183, of a darted dress with a low cut H-shaped back was released in 1969 for summer sewing.

I have a bunch of vintage patterns from thrift store shopping, but I actually set out to buy this one after seeing it on the “We Sew Retro” website.  I bare arms and legs but don’t have any clothes with an open back.

This will be my blue summer – I’m not talking about moods but fabric.  I picked up yardage of two different shades of chambray at an estate sale.

I decided to start on my chambray summer sewing with a top made from this pattern.  It’s sized for a 36 inch bust, and I’m bigger than that.   I started by doing a full bust adjustment to the pattern after I traced it off on medical pattern paper.  I made a mock-up using a sheet – too tight!  I added 1/2 inch to the seams.  I kept the front and back waist darts, but I made them shallow as I wasn’t going to use a zipper and didn’t want the top to be too fitted.

The fabric frays easily so I sewed french seams to enclose the raw edges. I planned on swapping bias binding for the facing pieces.  After I started working on the top I had the idea to substitute red piping as an accent around the very long neckline.   For the armholes I made  bias binding from the chambray fabric.

I had scraps around from the denim skirt refashion so I made the strap from denim.

A big goal with this top was to keep my bra from showing.  Initially, I tried to get the strap on the top to cover my bra, but it wasn’t quite working so I raised the back 3 inches.

I tried machine stitching a little section of the piping to the inside of the shirt, but didn’t like the way it looked.  I wanted a clean look to the front of the top as if I were using facing.  Instead I invisibly hand stitched the neckline, armholes, and hem.

view of inside

The finished top:

It has a front too.

I had a devil of a time getting the strap straight, and unpicked it a few times.  The thread is a great match, so both my fabric and nerves were fraying.  I think I was trying to attach it too close to the curve.

In the photos of me wearing the top, I noticed some strain lines across the back and I was thinking of removing the strap.  It was a cute part of the design that attracted me to the pattern, yet I raised the back and don’t really need it.  I also belatedly thought of making a strap with buttonholes on both sides that can be buttoned on or left off.

What do you think?

I wish you a happy summer of ’17.  I doubt it will be as historically memorable as the summer of ’69 but I hope it will bring you memorable days of enjoyment with family and friends to look back on.

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The Dress Doctor Part 2

Last week, I reviewed the book I bought at an estate sale,  “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  Miss Head won 8 Oscars for costume design, and dressed most of the leading ladies in Hollywood movies in the 1930s through the 1960s.

This week I’m going to get personal, and show some fashion examples from my own life.

Prescriptions for Dressing drawing by Edith Head

At the end of the book, Miss Head offers her prescriptions for dressing for everything from sports to housework.  (Sorry Mrs. Cleaver, high heels are not appropriate for doing the dishes).

Pictured above is her prescription written in 1959 for dressing for amusement parks. Let’s see how our clothes stacked up some years later, in the mid 1960s at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Disneyland in the mid 1960's

Pretty much spot on! My mother and I, the towheaded girl, and the hand-on- head woman are all wearing what could be described as sport dresses or simple street dresses. I’m not sure about the redheaded woman – could she be wearing shorts? The pig is dressed up a bit more but is still within the rules as hats and gloves are optional, assuming that the dress code for males is the same.

Within about five years of this date, the dividing line for which clothes are appropriate for school, work, and play had blurred and changed. The fashion prescriptions of Miss Head, which had been the norms of society, would be discarded by young and old alike as a new casual style of dress took over.

My Favorite Guinea Pig drawing by Edith Head

Miss Head advises to experiment with clothes, and to be objective when trying on an outfit. “If it were possible to have a Polaroid camera along, snap your own picture and develop it at once, you’d make fewer mistakes”.  Just imagine lugging a big Polaroid camera into the dressing room, snapping a shot, waving the picture, and waiting for it to develop!  Of course this wasn’t practical, but this advice certainly works in the age of the “selfie”.

I fit Edith’s Head category of “too short” and her advice to my figure type is to use one color, never cut the body line, omit belts or use narrow belts, avoid a too-long dress length, and keep the silhouette slim and simple.

I decided to try my own experimenting in a department store dressing room.  It’s the store with the big balloons.  I’m keeping in mind Miss Head’s advice to accentuate my good points, and camouflage my figure faults.

Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily post unflattering photos of myself as I have a feminine sense of vanity about my appearance.

1960's tot admires her bracelet

And I know the importance of the right accessory.

1960's little girl loves her new bracelet

You’re never too young or too old to develop your own style!

Back to my experiment:  Here I try on a tent or trapeze shaped dress. The fabric is linen which is what I liked about it.

dressing room unflattering tent dress

trying on linen tent dress

 

 

 

 

 

All wrong! Too long for me, and even though the dress is so big and baggy it still manages to cling in an unflattering way to my high hip or haunches. Maybe I could wear this shape if the dress was belted, and hit just above the knee.  I find that waist definition is important for my figure.

Next I try on a knit top with a draped neckline, and a gathered skirt.  Better!

Polyester Outfit in Dressing Room

Cons: they are both polyester, the skirt is unlined and doesn’t have pockets, gathered skirt adds bulk to waistline, top is wrong length to wear untucked.

Pros:  draped neckline on top is flattering, like the deep blue color of the top, skirt will go with all solid colored knit tops.

I didn’t buy any of these pieces.  I feel fortunate that I have sewing skills, and can make/alter a garment to be more to my liking.  As I’ve gotten older and  the letters in my closet have changed from S to L, I find that the fit is “off” on most of the clothes I try on.

One of my favorite stories from the book is about the clothes for Connie Stevens, who was playing a small town girl in the movie “Rock-a-Bye Baby”.  Her co-star, Jerry Lewis, suggested that since her character didn’t need fancy clothes, she could just go the the store and buy something to wear.  When Jerry was shown the result of her shopping trip he said to Miss Head, “Make ’em!”  Apparently, the clothes weren’t very flattering, even to a young, slim starlet.

“Ready-made clothes are made to fit anyone and each individual has figure differences.  In making your own clothes, you can adjust to those figure differences, play up your good points, see that the waist fits at the waist, the shoulders are exactly the right width, the darts in the right place.”

“Clothes are the way you present yourself to the world; they affect the way the world feels and thinks about you; subconsciously they effect the way you feel and think about yourself.”

According to Miss Head, the most essential thing that clothes should do for you is to make you feel comfortable and assured.  Now that’s a prescription that never goes out of style!

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The Dress Doctor by Edith Head

I noticed a book at an estate sale with a dress form on the cover, picked it up, and discovered I had a first edition copy dated 1959 of the book “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  I bought it!

I got a good deal. The book is selling on Amazon for $61 and up.  The 2011 reissue is not the original book, but a very abridged version.  However, many libraries have a copy.

I remember watching Oscar telecasts as a little girl with my mother, and  hearing Edith Head’s name being called as a nominee in the costume design category.  Miss Head was nominated 35 times in her career, and won 8 Academy Awards, 6 of them in the 1950s.

In the book, she tells of being a French and art teacher at the Hollywood School for Girls in the 1920s, where her pupils included the de Mille daughters.  Some days they would shut down school, and go to Paramount to watch Mr. De Mille direct a scene.  Evidently, Miss Head found the movie business to her liking; during  summer vacation she answered an ad for a sketch artist at Paramount. Even though she couldn’t draw,  she got the job by bringing to the interview other students’ drawings from the art school she was attending.

The doctor hangs up her shingle drawing

She began designing for silent pictures and westerns.  Her first  design that garnered attention was the sarong dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in the 1930s.

In 1949, a category for costume design was added to the Academy Awards, and Miss Head received her first nomination.  She didn’t win until the next year, for “The Heiress”, in which she designed  clothes whose purpose was to make Olivia de Havilland look plain and unattractive.  Up until 1968, the Academy awarded two costume design Oscars, one for color, and one for black and white.  Six of Miss Head’s wins were for black and white pictures, including “All About Eve” in 1951 and “Roman Holiday” in 1954.

Edith Head worked with all the top female stars of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and in the book describes costume fitting sessions with Clara Bow, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others, and offers little anecdotes about their personalities.  Nothing snarky here – all the best stories were doubtless omitted as a dress doctor has an oath of confidentiality  to consider.

Miss Head worked on some of the greatest classic movies and my all-time favorites: dressing Bette Davis in “All About Eve”, Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday, Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”.

In the book, fashion advice is also given to the ordinary woman.  Miss Head appeared on a radio show with Art Linkletter in the the 1940s where she gave fashion pointers to the women in the audience.    I thought it very quaint to give fashion advice without any visuals, but then I remembered that the designer Mr. Blackwell, best known for his “worst dressed” annual lists, had a radio talk show broadcast from Los Angeles in the 1970s in which he did the same thing.

The show with Art Linkletter made it to television in 1952.  It was a fun show: contests to shop and select accessories, fashions shows, and a staple of women’s daytime entertainment: the makeover.

What Clothes Can Do for You drawing by Edith Head

My favorite part of the book is the section on what clothes can do for you.

“You are a woman with weapons, why not use them?  Why be a sheep when you can be a self?”

“Everyone has a day’s work, a career, in home, office or wherever, and why not express your individuality?  See how you can best dress for the day’s work to give yourself assurance.  Life is competitive; clothes gird us for the competition.”

Miss Head sums up her advice in three rules:

  1.  Be dressed for what you are doing.
  2.  Have the right accessories.
  3.  Don’t wear your clothes too tight.  A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.

How do you think that advice holds up in the 21st Century?

Next week, in the The Dress Doctor Part 2, I will apply some of her concepts to myself, past and present.

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New Clothes for Old Dolls

I went to an estate sale within very close walking distance, and immediately noticed these Kai pinking shears. They were on a small table right by the front door!  Before I bought the Kai shears I went home for a scrap of fabric to bring back and test them out, and they were sharp, easy to use, and cut beautifully.

Kai pinking shears

 

I also came away with this vintage and charming embroidered tea towel.

Glory of the house tea towel2

I was happy with what I bought.  But then, because the sale was so close, I went back the next day to see if there was anything else I might want, and to see what I could get at a marked down price.

I noticed that that the former lady of the house had a large number of dolls, doll clothes, and doll parts, all in a jumble in boxes.  Some were expensive collector type items, and others had obviously been played with by a little girl or girls.  I started picking out some little rubber dolls about 4 inches tall, the type that would be used in a dollhouse.  I estimate these dolls date from the 1950s or 1960s.  I didn’t know anything about the dolls, but as soon as I showed an interest, a woman asked me if they were valuable, and another said “You got all the best ones”. Ha!

This red haired family was in good shape.  The mother appears to have her original dress. Unlike the other dresses, her dress is stitched and hemmed.

Red Head Doll Family

The dark haired couple were played with more, and their tattered clothing was clearly homemade.  The baby just had a piece of fabric wrapped and tied.

Rubber Doll Family grungy

I was keen to spruce them up, and set myself the challenge of making them new clothes.

The woman doll was easy to dress.  I used a scrap of rayon fabric left over from a previous refashion, and I painted her shoe.

Brunette Doll old and new dress

 

The gent was harder for me to dress, as I had never made pants. The fabric scrap I used for his pants frayed badly, making them hard to hem.

He cleans up well!

Brunet man redressed

 

They’re ready for their own photo shoot.

Brunette Doll RedressedThey live in a beautiful land where the flowers grow very big!

A piece of eyelet made a new dress for the baby.

Rubber doll Family redressed

Much improved!  A well dressed nuclear family circa 1960.

And they lived happily ever after in their magical doll land.

Learning to Knit Booklets: Vintage Style

Let’s start with the oldest one from my collection.  It doesn’t have a date on it, but I am guessing it dates from the 1950s or early 1960s.  It features a cute cover, illustrations of a prettily dressed young miss, and a cartoon format to the instructions.

fun way to learn knitting booklet 1950sgirl learning to knit in cartoon form vintage booklet

 

The back cover shows a few simple projects.

back cover of fun way to learn knitting booklet

 

Wait a minute – what is that?  A creepy face on the back of her kerchief!

knitting weirdness - vintage face kerchief

What was the designer thinking?  Well, we need some kind of embellishment to make the hood appeal to the younger set, and what girl wouldn’t want eyes on the back of her head.

I first learned to knit and crochet in 1973 or 1974, and I still have the little booklet from the class.  Those faces on the yarn are  actually cute.

I don't know how to knit or crochet 70s

One of the projects:

1970s owl crochet top

Owls were very popular in the 70s, but I’m thinking maybe that’s not the best placement for the owl eyes.

The Gitche Gumee Headband is another groovy design from the same booklet, although it’s neither knit nor crocheted.

70s headband

 

I  also have a few early 1970s copies of a knitting and crochet magazine called 101 Sweaters.  Seventies fashion wasn’t just ponchos –  although the hairstyles and makeup are dated, many of the patterns hold up well.

101 Sweater Magazine

 

 

The magazines also have a section for men’s patterns:

1972 photo of knitting patterns for men from 101 Sweaters magazine

The guys on the left are cool, but could the guys on the right be any more dorky in those outlandish sweaters?

That wraps up a look at the good, the bad, the ugly, and the weird knitted and crocheted patterns and fashions of yesteryear. Do you like to collect old patterns or make things from them?

 

 

Graphic T-Shirt into Pillow

While I may never do a “what my father wore” post, my dad did manage to inspire a sewing project.  Although Dad passed away several years ago, I have kept several of the tee shirts he wore after his retirement.  Dad wore a lot of pictorial or graphic tees, including some that were souvenirs from places he had traveled to.  As I was looking over Dad’s shirts prior to Father’s Day, one caught my eye that I liked and thought that I could repurpose so I could enjoy it instead of just storing it.

Smokey Tee Shirt

This Smokey Bear tee shirt dates from 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the popular character for an advertising campaign to educate the public about fire safety.

As a kid, I remember having the comic book “The True Story of Smokey Bear” about a orphaned cub who was found burned and clinging to a charred tree during a 1950 forest fire in New Mexico. He was rescued, named Smokey, and became the living symbol of the forest fire prevention icon. Smokey received so many letters in the 1960s that he had his own zip code, and was a popular attraction at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., where he lived for the rest of his life.

In 2001 Smokey’s slogan was changed to “Only You can prevent wildfires” broadening the safety awareness to include brush fires in populated areas of California and other western states where drought and human carelessness have led to devastating fires and the loss of life and thousands of homes.

Smokey Bear will be 70 years old this August, and now uses social media to spread his message with a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Getting back to sewing…

Pillow Form

I decided to take the Smokey Bear shirt and make an envelope pillow cover to put over a pillow form I already had.  An envelope pillow cover has an overlapping back like a pillow sham.  I like envelope pillows for ease of making, and ability to remove the cover for cleaning or simply wanting to swap one cover for another.

After cutting out the center motif, I added fabric strips to enlarge the pillow front to fit my form.  My motif was not square and I also like the way they add a border to frame the design.   My fabric strips were from a forest green heavy napkin so I was able to use the finished edges for the two back pieces. The envelope back can also be made from the rest of the tee shirt.

My front piece was  15 inch by 15 inch leaving seam allowances of 1/2 inch per side to fit my 14 by 14 inch pillow form.  I cut my back piece 15 inch by 18 inch and then cut that piece in two for an overlap of 3 inches.  I would have cut the back piece 2 inches longer if I had needed to hem the 2 envelope edges. Then I put right sides together, positioned the back pieces with the overlap, pinned, and stitched around all four sides.  I clipped the corners, turned right side out, and put the pillow form inside.

Smokey Envelope Pillow Back

I thought there was too much slack so I stitched again from the right side top and bottom where the tee meets the border fabric to create a flange, and really like the way this looks.

Tee Shirt into Envelope PillowMake a Graphic Tee Shirt into an Envelope Pillow

Another idea I have for tee shirt envelope pillows is using sports teams tees which could be swapped according to the season and would look great in a den or boy’s room.

Making a pillow from a graphic tee shirt is a fantastic way to reuse tees that are too big, too small, too worn or stained, or are never worn,  but have that logo or picture that you love and want to keep.

 

 

 

 

What My Mother Wore – Fur

The luxury item every woman wanted in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was a fur coat, especially a mink coat.  Fur was a status symbol popularized by the actresses of the day.  Glamorous stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and others wore fur in their movies, and were photographed attending gala events wrapped or adorned with furs.1940s Fur Coat NYC

Besides mink, muskrat, fox, raccoon, beaver, squirrel and rabbit were commonly used to make coats, capes, and stoles.  From the end of World War II through the 1950s the popularity of furs soared and became an important accessory for the fashionable woman.

Growing up,  I remember watching the rerun of an  “I Love Lucy” episode from 1951, The Fur Coat, with my mother in which Lucy doesn’t want to take off a beautiful mink coat even to sleep.  I also liked to pet the furs my mother  brought with her from New York which mainly stayed in the closet.  I was especially enamored with a little scarf-like stole with a head with a mouth clasp that clipped onto the fur.

Mid 1950s - Suit worn with Fur Stole

In present day, the wearing of fur is controversial, and is more likely to bring the wearer scorn than admiration.  Animal rights organizations have brought the realities of the cruelty of the fur industry into the public’s consciousness.  Synthetic fur became available in the 1950s and is an alternative that is being used by some designers.

What do you think today’s coveted fashion items are?