Friday, January 5, 2024

Home Pattern Company 157 - Ladies' Matinee or Morning Blouse

Authorized by the American Red Cross, this pattern was produced during World War I (1914-1918.)

The pattern is referenced in Junior Red Cross Activities Teachers Manual, American Red Cross publication #606, published on October 15, 1918. The Manual is a terrific resource for understanding how war work could be integrated into school work, starting even in the primary grades. Before getting into the specifics of the articles to be produced, the manual discusses how the schools' war work can be used to teach social responsibility and contribute to community service. (See Chapter V)

Thus, while sewing clothes for refugees was incorporated into home economics instruction, it could also be used to teach geography about France and Belgium, and current events about the war. In addition to sewing skills, other aspects household economy to be taught included clothing care and repair, and clothing the baby. (See Chapter VIII)

The manual states that "The garments to be made may seem somewhat unattractive in color and design and materials used. Remember that we cannot expect the French and Belgian people to change their habits and customs and if we wish to be truly helpful we must not try to force our opinions and practices upon them when they have definite ideas as to what they wish."  (p. 301) In particular, the Belgians were thought to have a preference for dark colors, though part of this may have been due to limited resources for laundering.

At this time, the term "morning blouse" appears to be used for a garment worn at home while attending to the morning's household chores.  In the February 15 issue of Vogue magazine for 1917, patterns for morning clothes and sports clothes are shown on page 82. (A little confusingly, the model wearing Vogue's stylish version of a morning blouse is shown holding a tennis racquet.) The construction and materials used would allow the morning blouse to be laundered at home.

By the third year of high-school, students could make the morning blouse in "flannel, outing flannel, or very heavy galatea, dark colors only." (p. 362) At this time, flannel would have been understood to be wool flannel, while outing flannel was made of cotton. Galatea was a firmly woven cotton fabric, typically twill or sateen weave, usually used for nurses' uniforms and children's clothes. 

Note that 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 probably not in ladies' clothing. The strengthening provided by a flat-felled seam justifies the additional time it would have taken to make the seam.

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

This is an unprinted pattern.

Originally posted on 4 July 2008, substantially rewritten with new information on 5 January 2024.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Vogue 590 - Misses' Dress and Top

Early 1980s. This pattern was also issued by Vogue as number 8826 with the same cover artwork. Today it shows up frequently on eBay and Etsy.

Born in England on October 8, 1928, Erica Wilson graduated from the Royal School of Needlework in 1948 before moving to the United States in 1954. She became well-known for her newspaper column, books, needlepoint kits (some in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and her television show on PBS.  At that time there were few other books available on traditional smocks and smocking, particularly in the United States.

A similar smock was featured in Wilson's 1981 book Erica Wilson's Needlework to Wear, on pages 50 and 78.

This pattern would have appealed to Wilson's fans during a period of nostalgia for "traditional" crafts. Folkwear published their English smock pattern at about the same time as the Vogue pattern.

While the pattern is for a women's garment which Vogue refers to a dress or top, originally this garment was called a "smock frock." Smock frocks, some of them beautifully embroidered as well as smocked, were worn by agricultural laborers in parts of England during the nineteenth century. As farming became increasingly mechanized throughout the century, smock frocks would have been unsafe to wear around agricultural equipment and eventually became obsolete. (1)

A surprising number of the nicest smock frocks eventually ended up in museums. Subsequently, smocking itself has had periods of popularity over the years, often for children's clothes. I recall having a smocked dress when I was a small child.

The Vogue pattern hews pretty closely to traditional smocks' construction composed of rectangles of fabric. The shaped yoke and sleeve are seen in some later traditional smocks and for a modern wearer provide a slightly better fit through the upper body.

In addition to the construction instructions, extensive instructions are provided for the smocking and the embroidery.

This printed pattern is unused.

(1) The best recent work on the history of the smock is Alison Toplis's The Hidden History of the Smock Frock

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.