Thursday, February 26, 2015

Home Sewing Tips from the 1920s: Freshen Last Season's Frock with a Trig Little Jacket

Well! Ruth Wyeth Spears describes how to make a "trig little jacket" that she calls a bolero in this wonderful tip for home sewists in the 1920s. :) With this tip, Ruth illustrates not only a sleeveless little bolero to dress up last season's frock, but also matching belt and matching cuffs on the frock! Very stylish, smart, and trim indeed. Another inspiring tip for your 1920s wardrobe!  :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pattern of the Week: Sweet Hostess Aprons

The return of the apron in the past decade is something of a phenomenon, and rightly so. :) 

Today's featured pattern is  McCall 1279 from the 1940s. With both half apron and full apron versions, the apron is distinctive and feminine. Whether you call it a hostess apron, tea apron, or party apron, this apron features beautiful details that allow a hostess to accent her pretty party dress rather than hide it behind a utility apron. 

Note these details:
- Wide straps attached to front waistband that cross to form a bib and then taper and curve to button at back neckline
- Skirt with rounded hemline and gathered self-flounce (love that flounce detail!)
- Optional embroidered rose motif, embroidered eyelet ruffles, bias-binding & ribbon bows 

In recognition of the popularity of this attractive apron, you can find it hand-sewn and for sale in many places on the Internet, for example a truly vintage version at the Etsy shop, Color Me Vintage:

And newly sewn at It's Better Hand Made:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Miss Lillian's Postcards: Vintage Tweets - A Short Greeting from Nora

Postcard 31

Sender: Nora
Addressee: Miss Lillian Maguire, 1902 "G" Terry Ave, Seattle, Washington
Postmark: St Charles MO
Date: June 15, 1908
Image: St. Charles Military College, St. Charles, Mo.

This postal from St Charles MO features buildings at St Charles Military College, which was founded in 1832 and was still around in 1914. It is possible that it was absorbed by and became St Charles High School, but only if St Charles Military College and St Charles Military Academy were the same institution. You can figure out only so much via the Internet.

Dear Lillian,
Received your
letter and Postal 
Everything is
lovely in St. Chas.
Hoping you are
feeling fine and
dandy. Best Wishes
From Nora

This postal is from Lillian's friend Nora, from whom she has received other postcards, and who resides in St. Charles, MO. She is very general in her remarks. Mainly this is just a "touching base" sort of message. The item of note is her use of the slang term "OK".

Blouse Fashion from 1907

I love the detail on this blouse!

Friday, February 20, 2015

History of Sewing - De-Mystifying Unprinted Patterns

Sewing with unprinted patterns sounds intimidating to many sewists, especially those new to vintage sewing. So to help de-mystify these vintage patterns that have no ink on them, I thought it might be helpful to clarify what is meant by "unprinted" pattern pieces.

First, unprinted does NOT mean completely blank! What unprinted means is that instead of ink, all sewing indicators are marked on each pattern piece with perforations. It is as simple as that! (relatively speaking ;)

Also, unprinted pattern pieces are universally precut. That means there is nothing to cut away (as you do in modern patterns).

Perforations Instead of Printed Indicators

So the key thing to understand when working with unprinted patterns is the meaning of the perforations. The  information that you find on a typical printed pattern indicates:
  • Notches for matching pieces together
  • Placement of a piece on the fold of the fabric 
  • Placement on the straight of grain of the fabric
  • Folds for darts, pleats, tucks, and hemline and position of natural waistline
  • Seam allowance
Now just take each of those printed elements and re-imagine them through the use of perforations on the unprinted pattern piece.


Notches are the equivalent of diamonds on modern patterns. Match up single notches with single notches and double notches with double notches.

Single notch

Matching Notches

Placement on the Fold of the Fabric

Three circles forming a triangle indicate that this side is to be placed on the fold of the fabric.

However, some pattern makers chose not to use the 3-circle-triangle to indicate placement on the fold. Instead, three (or even two) circles in a row (rather than in a triangle) represents the side to place on the fold of the fabric.

The instructions will clarify which perforations indicate placement on the fold.

I have used red arrows in this image to point out notches and what they match to. Blue lines circle the three circles that form a triangle and indicate to place that side on the fold of the fabric.

Two circles here represent the placement on the fabric fold (blue circles):

Placement on the Straight of Grain

Pairs of one, two or three circles  (usually large circles, but not always) in a row along the center length of the piece indicate the straight of grain (or straight of goods) for the piece. The placement on the straight of grain is always defined in the instructions.

Another example of single circles in a row that indicate the straight of grain:

To indicate the straight of grain, this pattern uses three sets of three small circles in a row for pieces 3 and 6, while two sets of three small circles suffice for pieces 4 and 1. Pieces 2, 5, and 7 don't need the straight of grain indicated because they are placed on the fold, as indicated by the triangle of circles on one side

You'll notice in these examples that patterns vary in how detailed they explain the meanings of the perforations in the illustrated list of pattern pieces. In all cases, though, the sewing instructions are very clear.

Darts, Pleats, Tucks and More

These various perforations are used to indicate different things, depending on the manufacturer. They are typically explained in the pattern's instructions.

  • Folds for darts
  • Folds for pleats or tucks
  • Natural waistline
  • Placement of buttonholes
Perforations for a dart form a triangle that looks like a dart and is placed where you expect it.

Folds for pleats or tucks are parallel rows of circles, sometimes the same size, sometimes alternating rows of large and small circles. To form the pleat or tuck, you fold the fabric so that one row of circles aligns with the next row.

The natural waistline is often indicated in dresses or blouses that extend below the waistline. This allows you to adjust the pattern as needed so that it fits properly for your waistline.

Placement of buttonholes are also indicated with perforations, usually pairs of small circles.


Sometimes hemlines are "allowed" for in the pattern pieces, but sometimes they are not! Especially with wartime unprinted patterns (in the 1940s when paper was at a premium), it was not unusual for the pattern pieces to omit an hemline allowance altogether. So be sure to read the instructions to determine whether the pattern pieces do or do not include a hem allowance. If they do not, you will have to extend the pattern at the hemline end for the length of hem that you would like.

Seam Allowance

Most pattern companies are content with simply stating the seam allowance on the instruction sheet. Occasionally (I have only seen this with unprinted Vogue and Hollywood patterns) a series of small circles around the outer edge of each pattern piece represents the seam allowance. And unless the pattern states otherwise, the seam allowance is designed into each pattern piece. This means you do not have to add any seam allowance when cutting each pattern piece.

Especially in unprinted, precut patterns, the seam allowance is not standardized. Sometimes the pattern instructions will state that all seam allowances are 1/2 inch. Or that the seam allowance is 3/4 inch at underarms and 1/2 inch on all other edges. So always be sure to check the instruction sheet thoroughly for the seam allowance.

Here is what the pattern piece would look like with perforations for seam allowance.

Here is how it would appear for the entire pattern:

Another example:

Well, that's it for now! I am sure that no matter how long I have labored with this post (off and on for a very long time), as soon as I post it, I will think of things I forgot to mention, Well, that will be material for a follow-up post!

Hopefully you now feel armed to sew with vintage unprinted patterns, whether or not you have previously sewn with modern patterns. Just be sure to read the instructions thoroughly before you begin! And I am happy to answer questions. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge - I'm In!

Okay, it's about time to put my sewing machine and my vast inventory of vintage sewing patterns to personal use! A Stitching Odyssey blog has just kicked off the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge for 2015, and I simply have to give it a try!

I want to sew a dress from the 1920s, and hopefully incorporate some tips from Ruth Wyeth Spears. :)  I want to sew something from the 1930s - perhaps a blouse or an undergarment. And I would like to sew something from the Mod years - the late 60s or early 70s. Right now that is all I have for you! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pattern of the Week: 1930s Ensemble Simply Shines

Although it sold within a week of posting it, I am still going to put the spotlight on this divine 2-piece dress with matching coat from 1936, Simplicity 2215!

Note the superb details:

Dress blouse features a dart-fitted bodice, with notched peak lapel collar, button-accented diagonal front insets with underlap (the underlap is sewn under one side and the other side fastens to it with snaps) that form weskit-style points, and fixed belts that buckle in back.

Dress skirt has slight flare and a top-stitched center front double inverted pleat.

Coat is flared in 3/4 length, with top-stitched center back inverted pleat, diagonal welt pockets, long sleeves softly pleat at shoulders, and a high revers wing collar. Fully lined, of course.

Sigh. First class fashion.

Monday, February 16, 2015

February is National Embroidery Month!

In honor of National Embroidery Month, I dedicate this post to all hand embroiderers. I personally love hand embroidery, which I learned from my mother. I get so much inspiration from the artful hand embroidery that I see on Pinterest (for example here),  and from the such sites as the fabulous Embroiderers' Guild of Victoria, and the Embroiderers' Guild of America, and the blog Feeling Stitchy.

I sell vintage embroidery transfer patterns in my shop, of course, which I enjoy very much. Floral, animal, and food motifs were (and still are) very popular. Here is a hodge podge of samples:

And here are some hand embroidered pieces that I own. This is a table runner that I hand embroidered back in the 1970s, It is inspired by Scandinavian motifs:

I love modern embroiderers who follow their own inspiration. This is a fabulous and inspired piece of embroidered whimsy that I bought from another seller on Etsy. She even included her recipe for cornbread, which I have to admit is the best cornbread ever. Really.

This table runner is embroidered completely in the tiniest of cross-stitches, quite amazing. You can see the individual cross-stitches in the close-up view.

I hope this small sample will inspire you to explore the current exciting work being done in needle arts of hand embroidery and perhaps start a project of your own!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Home Sewing Tips from the 1920s: A Smocked Frock!

How many of you have tried your hand at smocking? In this tip from Ruth Wyeth Spears, frock fullness is artfully "gathered" with honeycomb smocking at the neckline and the hips. Using a typical technique for Ruth, you apply the smocking before you cut the dress. And as usual, Ruth's clear instructions make it look easy!

Smocking is actually a wonderful technique and there are magazines out there that are devoted solely to the art, especially in Australia, the UK, Canada, and South Africa, full of very cute smocking patterns.  Vintage patterns for smocked items usually included transfers that consisted of the dots that Ruth describes, which simplified hand marking the dots. Nowadays, there are pleating machines for smocking that make it even simpler.

But you don't need a smocking dots transfer or a machine to add smocking. Just follow Ruth's instructions to be successful!

Happy smocking!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pattern of the Week: Beautiful Mid-1930s Formal Gown for Girls

I list new patterns almost every day in my Etsy shop, Midvale Cottage. While I enjoy just about each and every pattern for one reason or another, there are usually a few stand-outs, really wonderful patterns with details that make them special. So I decided it would be fun call out one of these each week. 

My featured pattern of the week (week being loosely defined here as within the last 7 days :)) is this beauty, a formal gown for girls from 1936.

McCall 8949

Designed for organdy, silk, and taffeta, this is truly a demure and elegant formal gown for a grown-up girl. The eye-catching aspect? The curved shaped yokes that extend over shoulders to form cap sleeves, with front button closing extension. You can opt to trim with ruffles at neckline and yoke edges or add a peter pan collar. You can choose to leave the gown with cap sleeves or add modified raglan short puff sleeves. The bias flared skirt with straight princess seams in 2 lengths is lovely and is set off with a wide sash tie belt. Altogether it is a very special gown indeed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Spotted in a Shop Window: Ethnic Prints for Spring!

I was walking past the Antrhropologie store in downtown Seattle recently and spotted these these items that use inspiring, ethnic prints.

This slim pencil skirt features a colorful print that reminds me of the kanga cloth that Emileigh posted about recently on her blog, Flashback Summer. It definitely has an African "flavor"- the warm tones and bright design simply spell summer fun to me.

This cute full skirt features a tropical print in earthy brown tones - very sporty and full of energy. :)

I love the bold colors of this jumpsuit!

A colorful infinity scarf and wide-leg paisley pants are eye-catching.

Be sure to check the Anthropologie website for more great fashion in vibrant colors, as well as items for the home!

Friday, February 6, 2015

1950s Knitted Sweater and Skirt - Supremely Charming!

A dove-gray full skirt + a chartreuse sweater with blouse-styling = amazing hand-knit separates fashion from the 1950s! Can you imagine hand knitting this wonderful ensemble? It IS so very cute, but I wonder how long it would take to knit?

Here is the same skirt with two alternate sweater styles.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Home Sewing Tips from the 1920s - Fagoting Trim

This is a great tip from Ruth Wyeth Spears for the home sewist and the 1920s. It features fagoting, a type of trim that provides a see-through band in a garment (unless you face the back of the fagoted section). Fagoted trim was popular in both the 1920s and (to a small degree) in the 1940s.

Ruth providers her usual great instructions and illustrations, so be totally inspired with your next frock!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spotted in a Shop Window: Elegant Little Black Dress with Retro Style

Spotted in a BCBGAXAZRIA shop window, this sheath with folded peplums is really quite stunning in its simplicity. My picture simply doesn't do it justice. This elegant snugly-fitted dress has a high waist, an inset belt, folded peplum in front and 2-piece diagonal peplum in back. Be sure to visit the BCBGAXAZRIA website here in order to view this beauty and all its retro details close-up.

Would you call it retro-50s or retro-40s style?