Saturday, June 5, 2021

Patt-o-Rama 8500 - Apron and Bonnet


1961, based on this advertisement in the Benton Harbor Michigan News-Palladium on May 11, 1961. 

The original mailing envelope has a return address for GRIT, a periodical for rural folks. The recipient's address includes a ZIP code, putting the mailing date some time after 1963, when ZIP codes were introduced.

Patt-o-Rama is another one of those syndicated house name patterns that are so hard to research. 

Despite the "quaint old-fashioned charm," the writer still points out the functional reason for the bonnet - it shades your face. 1963 puts this bonnet pattern on the cusp of a transition from primarily functional to nostalgic or costume use. This pattern could well have served both uses. It's easy to imagine the bonnet and apron made up in red and white gingham and worn by all the ladies running booths at a church social or bazaar. Then again, this may have simply been the preferred headgear for an older woman who was accustomed to the style.

The Patt-o-rama brand is also at an interesting point in the history of unprinted patterns. By 1961 all of the big pattern companies were offering printed patterns. Patt-o-rama gamely reminds the maker that with their pattern, there are "no margins to trim," "no tracing wheels," and "no fabric waste." But again, an older woman would have grown up with unprinted patterns.

The apron pattern is entirely unremarkable (and about 10 years later, I'd make an almost identical apron in my first Home Ec class, in avocado green cotton-poly, if memory serves.)

But the bonnet was interesting. 

Did sunbonnet styles change over time? How different was this bonnet from say, Butterick 5340, from the early part of the century? Superficially, not very different, as it turns out. The overall dimensions of the crowns are almost identical.  The brim of the Patt-o-rama bonnet is shallower by about 1 1/2" (but still quite deep enough to completely shade the face - the illustration doesn't do justice to the depths of the brim.)

Interestingly, the Butterick bonnet confines the curtain to the back of the bonnet, while the Patt-o-rama bonnet brings the curtain across the bottom of the brim, to shade the sides of the neck.

The construction of the bonnets is a little different. The Butterick bonnet combines the crown and the curtain into a single piece, using a simple fold at neck level to create a casing for the back drawstring. 

The Patt-o-rama bonnet has a separate piece for the curtain (piece J, which they call a ruffle) as well as for the drawstring casing (piece I.)  Butterick assumes you'll have some narrow tape on hand to use as drawstrings. The Patto-o-rama pattern instructs you to cut and sew drawstring ties from narrow rectangles.

Patt-o-rama 8500 is a good quality pattern. The pieces are accurately cut and the notches and circles matched well. The written instructions contained a couple of slightly confusing typographical errors, and were a bit jumbled - probably from lack of space - but the construction illustrations were clear.

I made the bonnet up from some pink calico I had on hand.  Chambray would provide a slightly sturdier bonnet.

I followed the instructions almost exactly with only one exception - I bound the seam that joins the brim to the crown, both for tidiness and strength.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Weldons 120313 - Betsy Trotwood

Late 1930s or early 1940s.

David Copperfield is the first of Dickens's books that I listened to rather than read, and I found that 33 hours of the audiobook was a great distraction from the endless dark days of winter.

Betsy Trotwood is one of my favorite of all of Dickens' characters, so I was intrigued to find this pattern for Betsy Trotwood (but Dickens spells it Betsey.)

My provisional date of late 1930s is based in part on the design of the envelope and the illustration,  but I also wonder if the 1935 film adaptation by George Cukor (starring Freddy Bartholomew as David and W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber) spawned an interest in David Copperfield-themed fancy dress in the years following the release.  I haven't been able to find evidence of a stage adaptation that might also have triggered Copperfield-mania.

Serial publication of David Copperfield started in 1849, but when does take place?  If you assume that it's partially auto-biographical, that sets the novel in the 1820s through the 1830s.  I think that this is an awkward period for women's clothing, with the long sloping shoulder line leading to enormous sleeves - a difficult look for even a very well-proportioned woman to wear successfully.

Edna May Oliver played Aunt Betsey in the 1935 film, and Dolly Tree, the costume designer, seems to borrow from the 1830s for the exuberant cap.
Image from
The Weldons designer provides a basic gray or brown front buttoning, long-sleeved dress of no particular period and uses the white collar and cuffs, and the black sateen apron to evoke the 1830s.    It's a little hard to tell from the illustration, but the pattern includes both a cap and a bonnet, although confusingly, the illustration seems to show the basic mob cap worn over the rather sketchy bonnet.

Weldon's Betsy Trotwood carries a garden hod and trowel, a visual cue that this vaguely 19th century lady is the Aunt Betsy that David Copperfield surprised as she was working in her garden.

This unprinted pattern does not appear to have been used, though it is water stained.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Vogue 1468 - Bicentennial Dresses


There is a little bit to unpack here, starting with how I did, then didn't, then finally did acquire my copy of this pattern.

I'd been watching for this pattern for several years before a copy finally came up for auction on eBay at a price I felt was reasonable.  I placed my bid and won.  And then I waited.  After about a week, the seller contacted me and apologized.  She'd gotten her wires crossed and sent my pattern to the winning bidder of a different pattern.  This person was so enchanted with this pattern that she hadn't bid on that she refused to return it.  So, the seller returned my money and I was back to watching, watching, watching.

The irony is that in my personal opinion this is by far the ugliest of the Bicentennial costume patterns out there.  Even the patterns sold in the newspapers tried a little harder than the Vogue design team responsible for this one.

Back in 1976, the pattern companies really didn't have historical patterns of the caliber of the best patterns that are available today.  They offered costume patterns with varying levels of historical accuracy.  Typically designed for use in local pageants, parades, or theater productions, the designers had to meet the needs of people with limited time and budget, and possibly only basic sewing skills. 

In a sort of perfect storm of awfulness, 1976 was period when 100% cotton or linen fabrics were hard to find, with local fabric stores selling mostly polyester blends.  If you think this was deadly for the ladies' costumes, talk to gentlemen who marched in the stifling heat of July 4th parades in bright red 100% polyester broadcloth coats.  (A few years earlier, in 1961, some of these same gentlemen probably sweated through dark blue or grey polyester broadcloth as they commemorated the Civil War.  It's my belief that these experiences helped spur the research into greater historical accuracy that continues to this day.)

But in 1976, every town was going to celebrate the Bicentennial and by gum, we were going to dress the part, whatever vaguely historical part that was.

The Vogue design team seems to have checked boxes for "mob cap" and "fichu" and "square neck" and then gone out for a long lunch.   On the way back to the office they must have seen a Laura Ashley dress and decided that was that.  Even one of the interior illustrations evokes the Edwardian sensibility so central to Ashley's designs.
This printed pattern is unused.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Superior 39P1105 - Ladies Maternity Apron Dress

Latter part of the nineteen-teens.  It's a little unusual at this early date to see a pattern described explicitly as maternity wear.  One suspects, though, that many patterns blandly described as wrappers, Mother Hubbards, smocks,  and bungalow aprons did service as maternity clothes.  Superior is the house brand of sewing patterns for Sears and Roebuck, and bless them for being very clear about the purpose of this garment, as well as offering it in larger sizes - up to 42" bust, in this case.

At about the same time, the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences cautions against making maternity wear that "serves to emphasize this condition because of the special, and perhaps unusual features it embodies."  The author goes on to recommend developing maternity wear "almost entirely from one kind of material, the contrast being provided merely by a collar..."  Lengthwise lines from shoulder to hem are recommended to help draw attention away from the widening mid section.

The Superior designer seems to have had much of this advice in mind.  This is a thoughtful, practical design that isn't too much different from other apron dresses of the period. The box pleats front and back add needed girth.  The elbow length sleeves are ideal for a working garment, and the square neck and contrast trim are an economical, stylish touch.

Although the envelope is rough, the unprinted pattern pieces are in very good condition.

Happy Mothers' Day.

Monday, December 31, 2018

McCall's 3009 - Snowmobile Suit

It's getting to be that time of year.  A deep snow pack is developing and the ponds and lakes are beginning to develop good thick ice.  For the vintage snowmobile enthusiast, this may be the best way to complete your look.  If you get a crack on, you can get your entire family kitted out (in maybe matching!) vintage snowmobile suits.

Notice the groovy two-color version B, shown only on the back of the envelope.

I had to look up one of the recommended fabrics - Cire, or more properly, CirĂ©,  is one of the family of fabrics with a hard, shiny surface finish.  Traditionally achieved with wax, heat, and pressure, by the time this pattern was printed cirĂ© finish fabrics were beginning to be available in synthetic fibers.

Here's what snowmobiling looked like in 1971, when the price of Ski-doo's elan model would just about cover the cost of today's snowmobile suit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

McCall 7432 - "Mary Poppins" Stuffed Doll with Nanny Costume

1964.  Although I concentrate my collecting on the more utilitarian patterns, I'm intrigued by patterns produced as marketing tie-ins, so a few have made their way into the archives.

This one resonates for me because I remember seeing the film during its original theatrical release.  In my cohort of seven year olds, we knew all the songs and staged our own versions of the story in our back yards and wished we had picture hats and frilly white umbrellas.  The "Nanny Costume" is iconic, but I've always wondered why there wasn't also a pattern for the garden party dress.

Making dolls and their wardrobes is fussy work.  Look at all the steps just to make the carpet bag.

This printed pattern is unused.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Simplicity 7099 - Boy's Colonial Costume

1938, based on the cinema listings in a cutout from a newspaper folded in with the pattern pieces (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was playing at the Melba, children 20 cents all times.)

Independence Day is always a good time to get your Colonial on.  There is something sort of uproarious about providing the 9d price in the British Isles.  Perhaps if you squint really hard, the instruction sheet says "George III," not "George Washington"

Size 6 is for a little tyke, and won't he look splendid riding on the fire engine in the July 4th parade?  That is, if Mama managed to work her way through the tiny instruction sheet and the half inch seam allowances.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day, everybody!