Monday, December 15, 2008

McCall 2958 - Santa Claus Suit (for men)



What the well-dressed Santa was wearing in the 1920s.  The patent date listed is for 1921; I suspect the pattern is a few years later.  McCall patterns of this era are really beautifully produced.  I find the cover art very attractive.  The decorative frames on both the front and the back of the envelope are a nice touch.

The pattern pieces are printed on very good quality tissue - still flexible at 80 years old.  My experience in making up McCall patterns of this period has been that the drafting is excellent and the garments go together very accurately, something that can't be said of some of the other patterns of the period.  Unlike most patterns of this period, which were die cut, McCall patterns were printed on large sheets and the user cut the pieces apart on the cutting lines, just as we do today.  According to the copy printed on the pattern, this way of printing patterns "insures absolute accuracy and eliminates that home-made look."

Note the curved two piece sleeves to ensure a nice fit and drape.  There is also a strap at the back waist of the trousers, to be furnished with a buckle. Santa likes a good fit.

Here are some helpful hints from page 42 of Miscellaneous Garments, by Mary Brooks Picken, one of the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences.  The date on the cover is 1921; the copyright date is 1917.



These days, the only time one sees canton flannel is for inexpensive work gloves; I've never seen it in any color other than white.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Butterick 5340 - Sun-Bonnet for Ladies, Misses, Girls, or Children




Before there was sunscreen, before there were inexpensive sunglasses: ladies and gentlemen, there were hats, and for women (and possibly little boys) there were sun bonnets. This one has a patent date of 1899; I date it a few years later. The Women's Institute (WI) book Aprons and Caps has a good section on making sunbonnets and sun hats. Chambray and coarse torchon lace were recommended for everyday bonnets, with sheer white cotton for fancy bonnets ("chust for nice" as the Pennsylvania Germans say.)

Remember that at the beginning of the 20th century the percentage of Americans living on farms was much higher than it is today, so this would have been a good saleable pattern and not a curiosity or costume piece.

The indication that this sun-bonnet was for ladies, misses, girls, or children makes me wonder if sun bonnets were sometimes worn by very little boys. If you leave off the lace there isn't anything horribly girly about a blue chambray sun-bonnet, and the image of a little guy in overalls and a sun-bonnet is rather appealing.

Sun-bonnet patterns continued to be available into the 1960's; I have one from this period that was sold on its own and another one that was included with an apron pattern. It was possibly one of these that I saw being worn by an older woman last week when we were in the grip of a ferocious heat wave. She was very fair skinned, nicely dressed, and wearing what I suspect was her gardening bonnet, now faded, made up in a pretty brown and white Liberty-like print with ribbon ties.

March 2009 update:  I had a few hours to fill recently and decided to make up this bonnet.  Using this Ladies' Home Journal cover from May, 1908 for inspiration, I unearthed some blue and white gingham I had bought some time back in the last century.


Here are the directions provided on the pattern envelope.


That's it, you're on your own.  Good luck.  Fortunately, the WI's Aprons and Caps booklet  includes excellent instructions on sunbonnet construction.   Here is their bonnet gal:


WI notes that "dress-up" bonnets can be made of sheer white muslin or dotted swiss.  One imagines that these ladies in 1902 Florida put on their beautifully starched, white, dress-up bonnets just to have their photograph taken.  This image from Shorpy:




The Butterick pattern calls for cape net for the brim interlining.  My Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles defines cape net as "Stiff cotton net.  Synonym for rice net, which see."  I dutifully thumbed ahead to Rice Net which I learned is "A term sometimes used for buckram."  Since I haven't seen my stash of buckram in at least the last two moves, I decided to follow the WI instructions for making interlining by heavily starching together multiple layers of thin cotton fabric. WI recommends cutting up the backs of worn mens' shirts to use.

Instead I used some good quality unbleached muslin I had on hand.  I mixed up a little heavy starch solution and gave the muslin a good soaking.


Then I carefully smoothed out the two pieces, one on top of the other, and ironed until dry.  Here's the finished interlining piece draped across the back of chair so that you can see the stiffness.  I'd say it's about as stiff as heavyweight non-woven interfacing but nowhere near as stiff as buckram or bonnet board.  It's very nice to work with.

Here are the bonnet pieces cut from the gingham.

And here is the finished product.

On the Butterick pattern there is an optional frill around the brim, made from a plain length of fabric that is gathered.  I didn't do the frill around the brim, making my bonnet somewhat on the severe side.   In the WI example, the brim frill is shaped - deeper at the sides, narrower at the top of the brim.  I may have to make another bonnet with a frill, just so I can have an excuse to use the gathering foot for my sewing machine.

The Butterick pattern indicates the line on the crown/curtain at which a quarter inch tuck is made to form a casing, but there are no instructions on making an opening in the casing or attaching the cords.  I worked an eyelet in the center of the tuck casing, and threaded in some very narrow grosgrain I found in my ribbons box.

Here's the inside of the bonnet before the crown/curtain has been gathered.  You can see that I bound the raw edge of the brim/crown seam.

The WI instructions take a very different approach to constructing the bonnet.  The brim and crown edges are bound separately and then snap fasteners attached to both so that the brim and the crown are snapped together.

The reasoning here is that the bonnet can be taken apart for laundering; the brim and the crown will both go through the ringer flat and can be easily ironed.  I've seen a fair number of sunbonnets through the years and I've never seen this type of construction.  I think I'd worry about the bonnet flying apart in a stiff breeze.  And I don't much care for sewing on snap fasteners.

Here's the inside of the bonnet after I've pulled up the cords.  You can see how the brim has been pulled in.  The WI book states that it's not tidy to leave these cords hanging, and recommends making a small bag, about 2 inches square, and sewing this just below the casing so that the cords can be tucked into the bag.  Well, maybe.

Here's the outside of the bonnet after the cords have been pulled up.

Now here's the outside of the bonnet with the back bow tied.

I'm not certain if the back bow is functional or not, since it doesn't seem to draw the curtain in any further.  I wear my hair in a simple bun dressed low, and the bow does seem to rest against the bottom of my bun, making the bonnet feel a bit more stable.

Here's the bonnet on, with the strings left hanging.  The bonnet feels remarkably stable, not at all as though it's trying to tip back off my head.


Here's the bonnet with the strings tied.  You can see how the shape of the brim has changed.

Here's a side view.

And here is a back view.  I guess those white cords do look a bit untidy.  It's interesting that the back bow is barely visible.


So, now I know what it's like to make the sunbonnet, and what it's like to wear it in the safety of my own home.  The next test will be to wear it outside on a sunny day to determine how useful it really is.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

New Idea 3539 - Ladies' Apron

About 1905

This apron pattern has led a long and useful life. The pattern is not complete. At some point the front yoke and straps were cut in one piece from a page of newspaper dating to WWI, though I believe the pattern to be earlier than that. The original front yoke, shoulder strap, and pocket are missing. (In my experience pocket pieces frequently go missing.)

Economy 4617 - Men's Undershirt and Drawers

This one needs some research. I'm not familiar with Sears's Economy branded patterns. For those of us who grew up with the big Sears catalog and their three grades of "good," "better," and "best," this looks like it might be their "good" line. I also know next to nothing about the evolution of men's undergarments, so I can't put a date to this one, though if forced, I'd date this one fairly early - 1900 to 1910, perhaps. These garments would probably have been made out of lawn for summer and flannel for winter.

Most of my early sewing books give extensive directions on making women's underclothes. making the argument that making one's underclothes is economical and that the choice of decoration gives a woman some area for creative expression. For men's underclothes, the only incentive would seem to be economy and it's hard for me to imagine a household in which making mens underclothes would be a necessity. As I said, more research is required.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Universal Fashion Company 800 - Working Blouse


This may be the oldest pattern I own. Given the typeface on the envelope, I would date this to the late 1880's or the early 1890's. I haven't been able to find out much about the company, though I discovered it's pretty easy to pick up their trade cards on eBay.

The term "Blouse" when applied to men's garments confuses people, but I believe that it's used to describe any shirt not meant to be worn with a stiff collar. When men stopped wearing stiff collars the term seems to have gone away in men's clothing except for middy blouses; a good example of the kind of linguistic ossification that can occur in closed societies.

The working blouse is a practical garment. It may have functioned as an overshirt, protecting the shirt underneath. The banded waist makes it safe to wear around machinery. Several years ago JoAnn Peterson at Laughing Moon brought to my attention an eBay auction for a 19th century fireman's shirt that could have been made from this pattern, the cut was so similar. And indeed, the working blouse would look splendid in bright red wool!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

May Manton 9510 - Comfort Kit


Comfort kits are not all that complicated to make and instructions for them with measured line drawings were published in magazines during WWI, so it's a little unusual to see manufactured pattern for one. Why the Newark (N.J.) chapter of the Red Cross was favored is a mystery.

This pattern appears never to have been used. The insert of suggested items for filling the comfort kit was still enclosed.


For those of you who'd like to try making your own comfort kit, here are some detailed scans for you to  download and enlarge or print out and grid up for hand enlarging.  Notice that the longest dimension is 33", and the layout diagram shows the kit being laid crosswise (selvedge to selvedge.)   The one fabric that I know that is still available in this width is pillow ticking, which is a very suitable fabric for this purpose.




February 7th, 2017 - Added detailed scans.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

McCall 2550 - Ladies One-Piece Work Apron



About 1905

I bought this entirely because I thought the frou-frou fashion illustration was so wonderful - a Gibson Girl artist, palette in hand, a perky bow in her hair.

The joke was on me. Of all the apron patterns I've bought this is the one that shows the hardest use. There are many small tears in the neckline and lots of pin holes in all the expected places. I can imagine a woman making this up repeatedly not only for herself but perhaps for her sisters or daughters.

Made up, this reminds me of a surgical gown. It's very comfortable. The weird little cap sleeves wrap around the arm comfortably and don't look at all strange. This apron has no shoulder seam; it's cut in one piece and was designed for 36" wide fabric, very common for aprons of this period. This raises an interesting point. If this apron is made up in a print showing a decided direction, the print will appear upside-down on the back. You and I might think twice about this, but its possible this wasn't such a big deal to the original makers/wearers. Anybody who has studied originals, please feel free to pipe up here.

I took the easy way out and made this up in a cotton stripe.  As usual, there were no instructions for finishing the neck or side openings.  I cut a shaped facing for the neck but just turned under the edges of the sleeve/side openings. This was a huge mistake.  There is a lot of strain at the bottom of the sleeves, and if you blow up the photo, you can see where I'm beginning to rip out the bottoms of the sleeves.  The next time I make this up I'll either cut shaped facings or I'll bias bind these edges.  I'll also drop the pockets down a couple of inches.  The original pattern doesn't include pockets, but I can't be bothered with an apron that doesn't have them, so I put them on.

There was no indication on the pattern as to how the apron closed.  I used a skirt hook at the neck edge and am careful to wrap one back side over the other when I tie the apron.  Note that no pattern piece was provided for the strings; the instructions state "If desired, cut tie strings," and the pattern indicates where these are to be sewn to the apron.

The designation as a work apron is important; this distinguishes it from tea or sewing aprons.

Pictorial Review 3783 - Ladies' Work Apron


Probably after 1907 but before the first World War.

I've made this up in the round necked sleeveless version and it has become an essential part of my winter at-home wardrobe.

I've been trying to post pictures of my apron for months.  The problem was that I was either wearing it or it was so dirty I couldn't bring myself to photograph it.  Well, I am rather chagrined to report that these photos show the apron freshly washed.  I do quite a lot of cooking and usually wear this apron, so this is as clean as it gets.

When I made it up I forgot that the shoulder and side seams were 1" rather than 3/8", so this came out huge.  The actual bust measurement is about 52"  Unless I'm wearing a heavy sweater, the apron tends to slide off one shoulder or the other.  Sometimes I'll pin a big pleat in the center front neckline to take up the extra - a very charming look, I assure you.  I shortened it about 5 inches, to come to just above ankle length.  When I go out to pick a few fresh herbs from my garden, this apron has been known to spook passing dogs.


As is usual for these early patterns, the construction instructions are minimal. There were no directions on finishing the neck and arm holes.  I used bias binding I made from the apron fabric, which is a heavy cotton chambray.  I cut the pockets on the bias so that I don't have to spend time matching the stripes.  I actually like the way this looks.

I put enormous buttons down the back so that I wouldn't have to fuss too much with fastening them.  In general practice, when I'm cooking I tend to button only the top and bottom buttons.  When I'm doing general housework with a lot of stooping or kneeling, I do up all the buttons.

Note that the pattern envelope states that "Any desired style of trimming may be adopted."   That's interesting for a work apron.  I wonder what percentage of women making this apron added any trimming, and what it was.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Home Pattern Company 157 - Ladies' Matinee or Morning Blouse


Authorized by the American Red Cross, this pattern was produced during World War I.
The description "morning blouse" indicates to me that this was considered at home wear.

The instructions on the back of the envelope explain how to make a flat felled seam, advising the maker to observe how the sleeves of a man's shirt are sewed into the armhole.  This tells us that such seams were common in men's shirts but not in ladies' clothing.

Here is a front view of the blouse made up, both without and with the belt:







From Unsung Sewing Patterns
I also thought the collar was interesting (and very nearly fashionable in its day)